Back Again

So it’s been over TWO YEARS since I blogged last and I clearly have some explaining to do. I’m sorry, but this is long. I added an intermission for your convenience. Okay, here’s what happened:

My uncle died just after Thanksgiving 2016. Yes, that was sad. Also, I lost NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month Challenge). Neither event was a complete surprise. My uncle had an operation to address a health problem and it went sideways. I spent a lot of time worrying and chatting on the phone with him in the hospital and before to cheer him up. Things went from sideways to downhill, “oh this is bad,” “you might want to …,” done. That was all nicely morbid and mildly traumatic, but it happens, and it wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last that I deal with it. The drama happened later.

I was depressed by my uncle’s health concerns, then decline, and my writing suffered, but I could have actually pulled a rabbit out of the hat and made it on the NaNoWriMo challenge, I’ve done it before. Not this time. I blogged once after the dreaded event(s), but it was hard not letting personal darkness affect my writing. Then writing and blogging fell to the side as I slid down the rabbit hole.

Disclaimer: I take full and sole responsibility that I’m conflicted that I still associate my uncle passing with losing a writing challenge. It’s worse that I’m conflicted about being conflicted. Everything else I had help being traumatized by.

First, people, get your shit together and have a will, okay? Even if you don’t have much, have a will. Handling details is a nightmare for those you leave behind and, unless you hate everyone, it’s not a nice thing to do to. Your loved ones/friends/neighbors will not remember you fondly for the lapse.

That being said, this case was extra special because my uncle was nice to me, he spoiled me – and my kids as much as they would let him (they thought he was weird, and they were right), but he wasn’t nice to very many other people. I knew his few friends, either I met them, talked to them on the phone, or they at least knew all about me and my family. It was assumed by all that I would be the one that the onerous task of handling details fell to.

Well … no.

Legally, I didn’t have any authority to handle the estate, my mother and her brothers did. Which is nice (for me) except that the fairly caustic dearly departed wasn’t on speaking terms with any of them when he passed or, in fact, for years before. His friends didn’t know he had a sister, for example, because my mother told my uncle to never darken her doorstep, or phone, again in 1986. She was the first, but set the bar for her other brothers to strive for.

Okay, so the estate was being handled by people who hadn’t spoken to him in quite some time. Oddly, I was fine with that. His friends and caregiver weren’t. That began to prove problematic with small details such as a physical address instead of a mailing address being required. Huh. I knew he didn’t live at the address I had, but there was someone to sign for boxes of cookies, movies, and things so I didn’t care. I sort of knew where he lived, and had the phone numbers of his friends and caregiver so I could call them if I didn’t hear from him and couldn’t reach him. It was covered. Except his friends wouldn’t talk to anyone but me, and I couldn’t give directions to his house because “the spindly pine tree that bends like a pregnant lady but has so few branches you’ll be astounded it isn’t dead” doesn’t make a great landmark.

Okay, whatever, so I should take over handling the … no. I got to act as an intermediary between my family and his friends. Sigh. Fine. Let’s get this done.

I should mention that I live a couple states away and wasn’t up to travel at the time. I have MS and don’t travel well, but some times are worse than others and I need to be in good shape before I start at least and I wasn’t. Also, I had a mother, uncle, cousins, and my uncle’s cousins closer so it was determined I didn’t need to fly up to sift through the house.

I’ve seen his house and I was happy to pass on that. My uncle was a bibliophile (which is where I got my love of SciFi/fantasy) packrat: Floor to ceiling bookshelves on every wall, sometimes shorter ones in front of taller ones and covering the half of the patio door that doesn’t open. In the extra bedrooms there were bookshelves back to back freestanding in the middle of the room as well as around the sides. This is the result of decades of choosing to buy books rather than borrow from a library, never get rid of any, and insisting every book must be on a shelf. Also, hardback over paperback on favored authors, if you start a series you must collect all of them, and eBooks are of the devil because the smell of a book while you read it helps the brain organize the information – everyone knows the link between smells and memory.

I have a couple dozen boxes of books in my basement that he was scandalized by and kept nagging me to put up more bookshelves. He refused to listen to my argument that I liked windows and pictures on walls, and I believed in fire codes as seriously now as I did in Santa when I was five. I got him a Kindle several years ago and loaded it up with some new SciFi (only available as eBooks) to encourage him to actually use it. I showed him how I had hundreds of books in the same space one took up. He gave it away I think because no one ever found it in the house. On the bright side, I set up his Amazon account so I guess I can load it onto another Kindle and download all those SciFi books again.

Anyway, you’d think handling the details after a death would just be sad, and it is, but in this case it was more frustrating because all of the relevant parties wouldn’t talk to each other. Even the hospital was a nightmare because I was listed as next of kin so they could talk to me, ask about insurance, give me the mortuary information, and call to collect bills.

Since the mortuary got their information from the hospital, initially they insisted on only talking to me too. They wouldn’t talk to my uncles or Mom because I was the next of kin. I tried to get Mom to just pretend to be me but she’s old school and wouldn’t do it. Then the no will/no power of attorney issue came up and they slammed on the brakes and wanted everyone’s identification faxed (including mine for reasons I still don’t understand) and that was extra fun while they figured out who they could legally work with.

Meanwhile, one of his friends called to make sure I knew the proper burial instructions. Apparently he and my uncle discussed this and it was important to one of them.

“He wants to be cremated.”

“Got it. No problem.” That was actually already the plan and we had a burial site and –

“And his ashes need to be spread –”

Wait, what?

“In Ireland.”

Ireland?”

“Yes. You have to, it’s important.”

“I have a cousin in England, it’s fine. But why Ireland?”

“Family is important,” I was told as if this was a great pronouncement. Really? Most of his wasn’t talking to him and he didn’t seem bothered by it when we spoke ten days earlier, so this was news.

“It is. But why Ireland? He’s mostly Germanic if you want to get into ancestry.”

“There’s some Irish and he was very close to his grandmother. He told me about it,” the old man insisted.

“Scottish, you mean.” To me, there is a world of difference between Scottish and Irish. But if you don’t have either in your heritage or don’t live near or with them, I can kind of see the confusion. I mean, British Isles. Geography can be confusing I suppose.

“No, Irish. He said Irish.”

“Listen, I was the one in the family with a passing interest in genealogy –”

“What?”

“Family history, and I promise you he doesn’t have a drop of Irish blood in him. Nana was Scottish, and yes, they were close. I totally get why he might want to go back to, um, the homeland, although to be fair he’s a quarter Austrian and half German, plus we still have family in Innsbruck so I would have thought he’d go that direction. But Scotland is fine if that’s what he wanted. I’m surprised he didn’t mention it to me.”

“HE SAID IRELAND!” the old man growled at me.

“HE’S NOT IRISH!” I snapped back. This doesn’t matter. I should just say fine, we’ll bury him in Ireland and then go stick him in the ground beside Grandma like he wanted two decades ago and we originally planned. It’s not like the old man on the phone was going to fly to Ireland to make sure we scattered his buddy’s ashes to the wind in … wherever.

Although with my luck it’d come up at the wake. Not a drop of Irish blood in my family but we do appreciate wakes. We throw wakes instead of funerals whenever possible, it’s just more pleasant.

Sigh. Take a breath.

“Listen, I think there was some confusion here. He wants to return to his grandmother’s home, that’s a lovely thought. Nana was really nice and I’m sure she would be honored.” Let’s just leave aside the fact that while Nana may have been born in Scotland, she was raised in Nova Scotia and didn’t actually remember the home in question. “I promise you, he wasn’t Irish. Have you ever seen him drink?”

Okay, so that was a low blow and totally uncalled for. My uncle wouldn’t  have touched alcohol if you held a gun to his head. Why? Because my family is comprised of alcoholics, and the much revered Nana pointed out no good came of it, and he was the only one who listened.

I used ageism to promote a cultural stereotype and prove a logical fallacy.

OMG I’m going to hell.

“Oh. Right,” he acknowledged.

It worked. Wow. I am so going to hell for that.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure he just misspoke.” Yeah, I just blamed the dead guy so the old man on the phone would feel better. Go big or go home, right?

“Anyway, cremated, ashes in Scotland, I’ll look up the family seat and get with my cousin. No problem.” I pretended to write that down as if this entire conversation wasn’t now burned into my memory for the trial for my eternal damnation later. I was going to have words with my uncle. If I was going to hell, I was dragging him down with me.

“But we already had the wake.” He sounded so confused and deflated.

“That’s okay. My grandfather did business with a lot of Irishmen,” he did actually but it’s irrelevant, “and the family long ago adopted wakes instead of funerals. I think that’s great. It’s what he would have wanted.” Except for the whole aversion to alcohol thing, that could have been an issue if it ever came up. “We’ll raise a glass, or five, later.”

“Oh, good.” He cheered up. Yay for me. I needed points.

<<Intermission>>

So things dragged on, sort of like Vietnam. Everyone had their own separate remembrances because we talked on the phone so much and people kept trying to share stories then letting the words fall away as they remembered that the particular memory wasn’t actually a nice one after all and ended in an argument or thrown vase or something and it got terribly awkward. We had some good ones, but even those seemed awkward.

Like “remember the time I got grounded when I learned smoking gave you cancer and I repeatedly stole his pack of cigarettes and filled it with water?” Silence. Yeah. (I was a kid and it’s the kind of thing that kids do, but Mom smoked too, as did my step-father and uncles and I didn’t try to save them.) Um … awkward. He also spent a lot more time and money on me and later my kids than on my cousins – just something else that came up (a couple of times). We discovered I was the sole beneficiary of his life insurance policy, but he let it lapse (I decided I was relieved). Grade school pictures of me and my kids in the house but not my cousins or their kids. See? Awkward.

Also, I used to believe my uncle was a werewolf. No idea where that came from. Super weird because I didn’t like werewolves. As a kid it was the one thing I was actually afraid of and I wasn’t afraid of my uncle. Huh.

Finally there were fewer calls and everything seemed handled and I thought it was over. It’d been nearly a year.

Normal. Right. Time to maybe start writing again. It’s hard to start again when you haven’t in a long time. Don’t put yourself in that position.

Struggle, read over what I’d written. Umm … Notes. Hmm. Re-read the books I’m writing a sequel to. Re-read the notes to see if they made sense now. No. Rethink some things. Make a battle plan.

Okay, I can do this. Deep breath. Update software. Waiting ….

I received a call from Mom, “Do you know where your uncle is?”

My mind blanked for a moment. “Um, he’s dead.”

“I know that, smart aleck. I mean his ashes.”

What? Seriously? OMG, can this be instead of going to hell? I can’t do both.

“Okay,” I started tentatively, “The plan was to send him to Portland, then London, then –”

“I know.”

You lost him? At what point?”

“Well, he might not have left the mortuary. We’re not sure.”

“What do you mean you’re not sure? Who was supposed to pick him up? Or mail him? Or whatever? I remember the mortuary people, they were extremely uptight about making sure they had every single detail documented, initialed, and itemized, and … everything … in triplicate. Plus copies for everyone he ever spoke to. I remember there was a section on what exactly was going to happen with the ashes, and they wanted to know the name of who would pick him up and the date and they’d have to show ID and sign for him and HOW DID THIS NOT COME UP BEFORE NOW?”

“I’m not sure. We’re trying to figure it out. I guess your cousin came back from her trip to Scotland, said it was lovely, and asked when we were going to send her the ashes so she could plan another trip and …” she let that drift off. Pause.

“You’re serious?”

“So do you still have the mortuary people’s information?”

I am NOT going to hell alone. “Yeah, Mom, I have it. I’ll have to dig it out because I wrote it down in the book I was writing at the time this all happened. I’ll have to go through the files.”

“You wrote your uncle’s death into a book? That’s questionable.”

Yes, she was serious.

“No, Mom. It’s just I needed somewhere to take notes, and Scrivener was open because I was writing, or trying to. Anyway, it was a convenient place to take notes. So it’s not part of the book, but I’m writing a genie does this and that, and my uncle dies and the hospital calls, and call the caregiver, and the mortuary’s info will be there as well as the rest of this shit show.”

“Language.”

“You’ve seen what I write and you’re lecturing me now? For that matter, I’ve seen what you write. By the way, Mom, ‘damn’ has an ‘n’ on the end when you’re swearing. Also, ‘its’ only has an apostrophe if it’s a contraction, not possessive.”

“Apostrophe-s is possessive so ‘its’ will always have an apostrophe, kid.”

“They changed the rules. English is irregular AF, go with it.” Yes, I lie to my parents, and I firmly believe I do not lose heaven points for that because every kid does to some extent. It’s fine, parents lie to kids too.

“‘AF’?”

“Never mind, go with it. I’ll find the information and text you.”

“Okay, thanks. We’ll get it all taken care of. I hope they still have him.”

“Probably on a shelf waiting for someone to pick him up. Or maybe they were supposed to mail him and just forgot, let’s hope. Maybe. I doubt they can just toss him.”

“They can’t store him indefinitely. At some point they have to do something with the remains.”

“Yes, but they billed someone for the cremation, right? So they have someone’s contact info. Actually, they have my contact info. They can pick up the phone before they toss him in the garden.”

“Good point. Okay, don’t worry about then.”

Right. Okay, so time passes. I called Mom.

“Is it sorted?”

“I assume. I gave the information to my big brother.”

“I’ll ask him.”

Email said uncle (we’re not a close family). No answer. Email again. No answer. Right, much more of this and our family will need our own subdivision in Hell. Dig into my phone, find four phone numbers for him. No. Look at old phone bills, find the correct number, and call him solely to ask if he sent his brother to his daughter for her next family vacation. Simple question.

“Is it sorted?”

“Well, we were going to ship him but then she was going to come back for a visit with the kids. Have you seen how much they’ve grown?”

“No. Way cute?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Aww, send me pictures. So then just thinking you’ll pass him along for her to fly across the country then internationally with human remains?”

“I should look into that.”

You haven’t? Whatever. “Maybe. Listen, here’s my thinking: You’ll probably take the kids to the beach when they visit, right?”

“Of course.”

“Naturally. Well, the Pacific connects to the Atlantic, and that connects to the North Sea, and she was thinking Edinburgh, right? And you know how everyone says it’s a small world and all that?”

Silence.

“Your mother isn’t that easygoing,” he said. I swear he sounded suspicious.

“Yeah well, there’s probably a reason I’m the only one who was still talking to him, you know. And I’m only half Mom’s when you get down to it. The mellow gene probably came from the other side.”

“That’s a good point. Your dad’s pretty laid back.”

“Yeah. And it’s been almost two years.”

“Another good point.”

“And I haven’t seen many of my cousins in a while, but I wouldn’t wish customs with human remains on them. Especially with little kids, they get cranky about delays. It’s not nice.”

He chuckled. “I’ll handle it.”

“Thanks.”

<<End Excuses>>

Now there are several takeaways here:

  • This happened. Old man, Ireland, lost ashes, it happened. Well, people had names but you don’t need to know them. The creative license is in the tone – the original interactions were much darker I assure you and it’s probably good I didn’t try to chronicle the events before I was past them enough to look back and laugh.
  • Have a F’ing will. Details. Leave it somewhere it will be found – quickly and easily. Also, don’t play favorites like this, seriously not cool.
  • Don’t stop writing, at least a little bit. Daily if possible, at least a couple times a week. It’s so hard to start again, as bad as starting the first time. Better in some ways, worse in others.
  • Your writing is tied to your emotions, but your emotions are also tied to your writing. Recognize that, use it if you can. If I’d been just a bit more on my game while I was going through the dark crap in this, I’d have taken advantage of that mindset to write darker scenes. OR force myself to write intentionally lighter scenes to help alleviate some of my darker moods. I’ve done both in the past but did neither in the past two years.
  • I didn’t ask for details, but yes, I’m assured it’s taken care of.
  • Learn to laugh at life, at least at some point. It may take time, that’s fine, but don’t live bitter.

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Cat Food

I should write about the riots, although I’m frankly fed up with them. Rioting to change police corruption or brutality won’t work. It didn’t work when Rodney King was beaten, it won’t work now. We can pass feel good laws, but it won’t change anything until the government is held accountable. Not the federal government, this isn’t about Trump, not really. Okay conspiracy theories with maybe a small point aside, it isn’t about Trump. Police brutality was happening long before he took office and that it was being permitted is an indicator of corruption at the city, county, and state levels. Look there for correction.

Okay, enough of that, back to what I see as a much larger issue: cat food. Actually, people food first. Back up, Covid.

I went to the dentist the other day and was stunned by the woman who did my X-rays. She laid a stunning bit of wisdom on me:

“This whole coronavirus thing is completely blown out of proportion. It isn’t dangerous, not really, we would have known long before now. I mean it’s been around a long time. It’s been listed on the backs of Lysol and Clorox Wipes cans since long before this scare started so obviously they knew about it already.”

I wasn’t sure where to begin. How can we be 6 months in and this woman not know that coronavirus is a family of viruses? That’s why in the beginning it was frequently called novel coronavirus. The media went out of their way to make it clear this was a new one. And this interaction, in a place where people are dutifully wearing their masks and washing their hands even though at least one X-ray tech doesn’t actually understand why, partially explains why the U.S. is having problems nationally with the population doing what it needs to keep this in check. Yes, many people are good little citizens and are doing what they’re told, but if they don’t understand why they’re doing it, they may not be doing it correctly. I’m thinking of the mask fiasco. Not the people refusing to wear them, at least we can see they’re a problem, I’m talking about people wearing ineffective masks: masks that don’t seal around the edges so air is leaking out the tops, bottoms, and sides; and the masks with exhalation valves that allow pre-symptomatic people to freely infect everyone around them.

Obviously there’s more to this problem, but that’s not what I want to chat about. Aside from lack of basic understanding (our poor education system coming home to roost), we also have levels of bureaucracy in this country that would make hell proud. The food being produced, yet going to waste because we can’t divert it to where it’s needed? Insane. And is that a situation that’s being addressed? Hmm. Oddly I’m seeing a lot of articles about entire crops rotting in the ground, but very few about how farmers have found a way to get their crops to the grocery stores. Now that some restaurants are opening maybe that will sort itself out, but the grocery stores still have limits on how much of some items you can purchase.

And this leads to what I wanted to discuss, although I really should have brought this up in January. Plant a garden. If you can. Some things are pretty easy to grow. I personally find zucchini/summer squash to be absurdly easy and tomatoes to be pretty simple as well. I’m hit and miss on cucumbers, it depends on the year. Potatoes are easy if you have some that have sprouted on their own in the pantry. At this point you can’t start with seeds, you’d have to go to a nursery and buy plants. And it’s getting late even for that because it’s getting hot in some places.

Gardening can extend your budget if food prices keep climbing, and ensure that you have some produce if scarcity or limits continue to be or once again become an issue. But it takes time and effort. And if you haven’t gardened before, it isn’t always as easy as it seems. Some crops are a bitch. If you have a neighbor that gardens don’t be shy – ask for advice. Some soil is good for some crops and not others and a gardening neighbor would know. If you need to improve your soil, or just give up and go with container gardening or raised beds (I had to do raised beds), knowing that up front saves a lot of frustration.

Now we get down to the important part: cat food. Gardening will not feed your cat. Also, don’t plant catnip. I know you may be tempted to home grow a little treat for Jingles, but let me tell you: not worth it on so many levels. You’ll attract every cat in the neighborhood – for about 10 seconds – the length of time it takes for them to strip that plant of every leaf and leave you with a pathetic twig sticking out of the ground. If you manage to not attract every cat in the area it’s because there are multiple strains of catnip and you bought one that no one likes. Likely your cat included. Congratulations. Now if you see catnip at the nursery (Lowe’s had it, I bought it, and my cats liked it, so I went back and bought more) you can grow it just fine in a sunny window, away from marauding neighborhood cats. I set one down for my babies to love for a few days, then switch it for another, so each plant gets a little abuse but not so much that it can’t take it.

Sorry, this isn’t about catnip.

Cats are carnivores so you can’t feed them the fruits of your labor. If you need to stretch your budget, however, they can eat meat trimmings you have. Most cats will even love you for the thought. Some cats don’t do well with lunchmeat (very processed) and canned tuna has mercury, so maybe limit that. Cat food isn’t cheap, although I got off really easy with the accidental discovery that Jingles doesn’t like canned moist cat food, but does like dry cat food with gravy over it. When I make dinner that has gravy, I make extra for her. Weird, right? The kittens are coming around to her way of thinking, mostly because they want to be like her and it’s annoying her immensely. That’s going to leave me with a flat of moist cat food, I just know it. Oh well, the strays will appreciate it.

Anyway, the point of this is that we may be dealing with the coronavirus issue with related inconveniences and oddities for a while yet so plan accordingly. Consider planting a garden so you have fresh vegetables and save money over the summer that can be put toward stockpiling cat food. Plan ahead.

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Cat Maintenance

I’m not sure how, but I’m falling behind in cat maintenance. Spring is always hectic, not that the season makes a good excuse. I mean autumn is hectic too. Both have yard and garden issues and I have to balance that with watching the weather carefully and battling hayfever. Winter has that whole prepare for Christmas nightmare plus weather again. No hayfever thankfully, instead it’s flu season but that doesn’t impact me much. It’s weird to say that in the middle of a pandemic.

Summer is a weather nightmare plus gardening in the wee hours of the morning, plus hayfever, plus tending the bees in a bee suit that doubles as a portable dry sauna. Plus blackmailing Greskrendtregk’s nephew into mowing the lawn weekly since The Boy won’t do it because we have bees. He wouldn’t do it anyway, but the bees gave him a reason to make it our fault. Plus my hair-brained schemes to cool the upstairs without freezing the downstairs. That’s a whole other rant.

Anyway, cat maintenance. Somehow I’ve fallen behind. Randall has been gently letting me know she needs her murder-claws trimmed and buffed while napping on my lap. The puncture wounds on my inner thighs are quite tender. Ripley has raced across me a few times in the night and launched herself from my stomach and shoulders leaving bloodied track marks a drug addict would be shocked by.

Jingles, bless her, was kinder. I think. She dragged a paper bag up into our bed last night. Greskrendtregk and I thought that was cute; she likes to lie on crinkly bags. And it was an Arby’s bag so I’m sure it had an interesting smell. Then, as we lay there watching TV and winding down for the night, Jingles proceeded to shred that bag into quarter-inch strips all over and in our sheets.

So that was annoying. We swept them into a garbage can. Lights out, go to bed.

Missed some.

Lights on. Peel back sheets, get small vacuum, get into those tucked corners. Jingles is watching from her cozy bed in the window. Kittens want no part of this and have vanished. Lights out, back to bed.

Missed some.

Lights on. Sweeping hands between the sheets, feeling for tiny pieces of scratchy paper. The drama of changing the sheets at 2am is discussed and dismissed in favor of putting on socks and sweatpants and kicking off the top sheet because it’s hot. Jingles is missing now, she made her point.

Please note the cats hate having their murder-claws trimmed. It’s a two person job at least. If you scoop them from a nap and do it before they fully wake it’s a two person job. If you start when they’re awake it takes three people twice as long and medical attention for at least two of you after you’re done. Two humans, the cats walk away with just a mani/pedi.

I have remembered to feed the family stray/outdoor cat. And water her. And pet and talk to her. And give her meat trimmings and moist cat food and other little treats because she’s my gardening buddy. I’m not completely hopeless, although I need to give her worm medication because it’s spring and that’s what I do in spring. Crap. Still dropping the ball.

The Immortal Fish loves me. I give him Cheerios, change his water, and don’t try to eat him or catch him, so I’m going to assume he loves me. I kinda need to feel like there is some pet I haven’t failed. It’s apparently going to be the fish. Wow, setting the bar low.

So after I trim the murder-claws, I need to research and buy a new cat food because the newest new cat food isn’t working out. They’ve had time to adjust and they’re just not. And wash and fluff the cat beds, all dozen or so of them. I have litter and treats delivered on schedule so that’s taken care of.

After these necessities are addressed, I must find new toys because they’re being super possessive and hiding their favorite toys from each other and it’s driving me nuts. You’d think just saying “Hey, you hid your toys! I guess that means if you want to play with (insert whatever toy is appropriate for the cat being lectured) then you can go get it” but nooo, it doesn’t work that way. They won’t bring out their toys where one of the other cats could possibly play with it too. They just try to make the humans feel guilty, then start finding inappropriate things to play with. Like picking things out of the garbage, or off of shelves, leaves off of plants, tearing up whatever paper or cardboard is in reach, batting around aluminum cans (so far empty – I feel like I’ve been very lucky and I don’t want to keep tempting fate) and the holy grail for Ripley is straws. She plucks them right out of drinks. Sometimes the drink tips over, that isn’t her concern. I have not been lucky on that front so I’m motivated to get these cats some new toys. Something too large or heavy to cart off. They like the ball in the track that you spin around, we refer to it by the imaginative name of spinny-ball. Bet you saw that coming. I see myself purchasing two more so each cat can have one. In separate rooms. We will get no sleep.

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Dizziness isn’t Vertigo

I was just reminded by Twitter that a lot of people say they’re dizzy when they really mean they have vertigo. In daily life I couldn’t care less. The only time it really matters is when you’re talking to your doctor or to other people about having a problem with your dizziness, which might actually be vertigo. In these specific cases, you want to be accurate because there are different causes and treatment of each condition.

Dizziness is what most people actually mean when they say they’re dizzy, so most of the time people use the term correctly. Yay! It’s the general feeling of unsteadiness. When I can’t walk a straight line and have to use a wall or inadvertently play “hallway pinball” bouncing back and forth between one side of the hall to the other as I go, that’s dizziness. The room is fine, the problem is me.

Vertigo is the sensation of movement. You’re still, but things around you are moving. When experience vertigo, I can fall out of a chair while attempting to stay in it because I perceive movement of the room that is not there. When the kids were little they thought this was hysterical. Actually, they’re adults now and they still think it’s hysterical. When walking with vertigo, I sometimes see the floor as moving on its own – wavy and in motion or tilting so I don’t know at what height my next step will land.

When you stand suddenly and get that momentary lightheadedness and dizziness is called orthostatic or postural hypotension and passes after just a few seconds or even minutes although if it lasts that long maybe you should sit and stand slower next time. It’s pretty common. Some people even faint, which is less common. It’s a drop in blood pressure if the term hypotension didn’t give it away, and for some people it brings on a headache so they tend to learn to be more careful about that whole standing up business.

Back to dizziness and vertigo.

Dizziness can be caused by a lot of things. Common causes include dehydration, low blood sugar, being tired, panic attack, medication, low blood pressure, anemia, medical conditions, and age. You treat the underlying condition to get rid of it. More on that in a bit.

Vertigo can be caused by medical conditions too, one common one is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo when one of the crystals in your inner ear breaks free floats around – making the little hairs that sense the position your head is in believe you’re moving in ways you’re not. I had this, it’s annoying and trippy. Eventually the crystal will dissolve and everything will return to normal, but in the meantime your life is hell and treatment (Epley Maneuver) is super quick and easy, although also sort of trippy. (Before you try it at home, keep in mind you need to know which ear the crystal is loose in and mirror the movements if needed.)

Back in 2010 I had a curious habit of walking a (mostly) straight line then taking a sudden turn right into a wall. The kids thought it was awesome that their mom did tricks, although changed their minds when they were tasked with holding my hand and guiding me like a blind woman every time we went anywhere in public. I was permitted to walk into walls at home if I chose. If there wasn’t a wall nearby, the concept of a straight line was an abstract idea I couldn’t be bothered with.

My neurologist is pretty liberal with his thinking, but I was also falling out of chairs and bed and finally decided that this behavior needed to end. He sent me to balance therapy for vertigo and dizziness. I had both although the behavior I described was vertigo.

Balance therapy is a specialized physical therapy if you’re wondering. The guy who did mine was really fun. I didn’t have orthostatic hypotension, which surprised him so much he kept retesting me. I did have Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo which got him all excited and I had no idea why. The treatment involves laying down. Then roll this way, then that way, then this way, etc. Weird. Sit up. Walk. I did not walk into a wall. I also couldn’t lay down again for 24 hours or something which was fine because I didn’t walk into a wall! I was super excited by this, which in turn made my balance therapy guy super excited. The kids had mixed feelings.

Don’t get me wrong, I still had mild vertigo and dizziness, but it was nothing like before. It was also intermittent instead of constant. The super weird part is that I’d been walking into walls much longer than I should have for that diagnosis, the crystal should have dissolved. The theory was that I kept falling out of chairs and knocked another loose or something. They don’t know. I didn’t really care. It was fixed!

The point is: if vertigo is bad, there is a possible diagnosis and treatment that is really easy. And, of all the weirdness, for a long time I took motion sickness medication for the remaining vertigo and that helped. It depends on the reason for it, ask your doctor. This isn’t necessarily something you just have to learn to live with.

Now dizziness. Balance therapy did a lot. Seriously, I spent a few months doing that. There was some sort of disconnect between my inner ear and my eyes that needed to be realigned. A general vestibular balance disorder that explains why I start to fall over if I close my eyes while I’m standing. Kid you not. They test this biannually in my neurology checks. Anyway, there is help for chronic dizziness.

I still have little unexplained flare ups, but they don’t last too long. I manage dizziness now by managing my medication. I know what makes me dizzy, I take the minimum amount I can of those prescriptions and I take them at night when the side effects are less of a problem.

Now, I have a cat hinting that she’d like tummy pets until she doesn’t anymore and will bite me tell me to stop. I need to tend to that.

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I Was Wrong About Cats. It’s Worse.

Okay, so cats can actually catch Covid-19. Cough, cough. Maybe it was the dogs who brought this down on us. I really wouldn’t have thought them capable, but hey, I can admit it when I’m wrong.

Bad Fido.

Speaking of that, maybe bad Mittens too. Why, you ask? Well I touched on this a few months ago on Twitter, but I think it’s time I revisited the subject.

There are few venomous mammals in the world. A lot of venomous reptiles. Like really a lot. Especially if you’re a small prey animal. As a large non-prey species, most reptiles don’t have venom that affects humans so we don’t recognize the modified saliva of many snakes as venom. A mouse scientist, if such a creature existed, would feel differently.

Because we are mammals ourselves, we take a special interest in venomous mammals. It’s cool. The one everyone’s likely to recognize immediately is the vampire bat. There are several shrews, a couple of solenodon, at least one mole, and the ever-weird platypus – but only the male because female platypuses haven’t been liberated yet. Also one primate, which is where our story begins.

So these guys were researching primate venom and discovered that slow lorises just use their venom to fight each other, and all it does is make wounds slow to heal. Sucks for them, and why do we care? Because of what happens to us, their primate distant cousins, when we’re exposed to their venom.

We die.

Okay, we don’t.

But close. Humans exposed to the venom experience symptoms of going into anaphylactic shock. That sort of thing is generally frowned on, sure, but also sort of exciting. It’s kind of like why on Earth would the Sydney Funnel-web spider evolve a venom deadly to primates when it lived on a continent where no primates lived? Until later of course. Weird, right? Anyway, same thing here. Humans and slow lorises don’t have a beef, so what’s the deal?

But there’s more.

They started analyzing the venom and discovered it was almost exactly like the protein in cat saliva that people with allergies react to.

So one plus one equals two means cats are venomous.

Okay, so it isn’t technically venom, and it isn’t poison either. It’s biological warfare, which is banned by the Geneva Convention. Which Mother Nature didn’t sign so I suppose there’s nothing that can be done to make cats knock it off.

The theory right now is that cats evolved it as a defense against predators. I’m not sure about that. I haven’t seen Fido go into sneezing fits when harassing a cat; then again I rarely see any of the neighborhood dogs chase any of the neighborhood cats. You’d have to know our neighborhood dogs and cats. The bullies are the almost universally the cats. Still, if Jingles had the power to make the Chihuahuas behind us sneeze, she’d be all over that opportunity I assure you. And before we had Jingles, we lost several cats to a local fox, so I doubt it had a cat allergy.

Greskrendtregk’s nephew is allergic to cats, and Jingles considers him something to be avoided. He’s persistent enough to just deal with watery eyes, so the venom clearly isn’t strong enough. If Jingles could quickly devise a way to keep from being harassed by Nephy, she’d do it in a heartbeat. In the early days it worked though, and it works against Greskrendtregk’s brother.

What am I getting at? I think I’ve mentioned before that I love cats, but will freely admit they can be assholes. Considering that, is it really so hard to imagine cats being venomous to sort of pre-sort who enters their extreme personal space? Then the cat can review the remaining hopefuls to see who looks promising and choose potential worshipers from there. It must save a lot of time and effort and you know how cats like their naps, anything to streamline the process to get back to that nap in the sun.

So venom. Yeah. Way to go, Mittens.

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Slow Boat From China

I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s this cold-thing going around. It’s kind of a big deal where I’m at, causing a bit of a stir you could say, and hampering some of the finer details of life. My Amazon orders are totally whack. No problem, it’s fine.

While everyone else was stocking up on toilet paper, I was desperate for Lysol. I go through a lot of Lysol anyway and figured my normal routine of spraying every knob, switch, handle, and touchpad in the house weekly wasn’t going to be enough. No one had Lysol. So I turned to the DIY version: alcohol and a spray bottle, except I only had one spray bottle and it was in use.

No problem. I love Amazon, I assume they love me (they should by now). I found inexpensive spray bottles that fit the need, purchased, then did a double take at the delivery date that was not disclosed on the product page. Grrr. I considered canceling the order, but they were cheap and having extra isn’t a problem so I let it go and went back to order more that would arrive sooner although be more expensive. And splurged a little for a misting style that is totally worth it and the cats hate.

And I forgot about the spray bottles slowly making their way here on a slow boat from China.

Now to be clear, in my house we say “slow boat from China” without thinking about it too much. We know a lot, seriously a lot, of our consumer goods are manufactured in whole or part in China and shipped over in large containers on huge ships. It’s what makes counterfeiting and smuggling so hard to crack down on. But we don’t think about reality when we say it. We just mean something will take a month to arrive.

Let me be perfectly clear about a few things: I have a bachelor’s degree in biology. I don’t say that to impress you, it’s my background and tells you something about how I think. I had, for many years, a passing interest in virology and epidemiology. That was before Ebola became popular, so watching everyone react to that was interesting. This has been…less amusing but for different reasons.

I ordered those spray bottles mid-March and now I have them. Let’s take a moment to go over what went through my mind when my daughter dropped that box down on the kitchen table, opened it, and pulled out a bag that contained three spray bottles shall we?

Oh, those finally arrived. About time. Slow boat from China. Laugh. Wait. Slow boat from…Tell The Girl to wash…okay she’s washing her hands. Right. Always wash your hands after handling mail. Greskrendtregk is insane about that. China. I wonder what province they came from? It doesn’t matter, they probably passed through half the country at some point or another.

Reach for the Lysol. Prepare to spray THE HELL out of EVERYTHING on the kitchen table.

Hold on. Those spray bottles have been on a slow boat from China for a month. Coronavirus, assuming they ever came in contact with it in the first place, doesn’t live on plastic that long. Even the WHO or CDC haven’t been that far off on their calculations yet. The inside of the box isn’t a problem. I knew that. I told the kids that a while ago. Cleanup after touching the outside.

Put the Lysol down. The cats under the table breathe a collective sigh of relief, they really don’t like Lysol. They don’t like alcohol either, but they like Lysol less.

I pull my phone from my pocket and pull up my Amazon orders list. Spray bottles aren’t the only thing on a slow boat from China. Cat toys traditionally travel this route. I examine my expected arrivals list with a critical eye. Make a mental note of arrivals that I will forget within the hour and return phone to my pocket.

I sort the mail, dump the spray bottles in the kitchen sink to be washed, throw the boxes in the recycling with the junk mail, and wipe down table.

The cats watch this with trepidation, as well they should. Mommy bought…new cat food! Because while Ripley has decided that I am worthy of collecting all her poops and therefore she will deposit them inside the litterbox (how did I become so blessed?), she is still the most…um…digestively challenged cat I’ve ever met. We call her Fart Weasel for a reason and her Fart Attack! defense mechanism is legendary. It’s also not limited to when she’s being harassed. When she uses the downstairs litterbox in the middle of the night, I know upstairs in my room. Sometimes I wake up. Sometimes I get up at 2am and go downstairs and sift the litter. Greskrendtregk thinks I’m nuts, but women are said to have more sensitive noses (I’m told it has something to do with knowing when to change babies or determining if food has gone “off” but I don’t know) and I believe this wives’ tale because I can smell super tiny gas leaks that amaze the repair man we eventually call to check the line about. And Ripley’s gas leaks aren’t tiny.

I changed the cats to a gentle cat food before. Actually, they’ve hardly been on regular food. As kittens, I had to choose because not one manufacturer makes a gentle kitten food. I chose an adult cat food for sensitive tummies and a moist kitten food, by the way and got the worst of everything. So moist, dry, gentle, regular, I’ve been trying one for a while, sticking with it to see how it goes, then moving on. Randall will eat anything, so that’s easy. Jingles has a sensitive tummy too, but it manifests a different way – what goes in comes back up. This last brand didn’t stay down well so I’m not sad to see it go. Nothing worse than getting up at 2am to sneak downstairs to sift cat litter to get rid of the smell that no one else notices or is bothered by but makes me gag and stepping in cat vomit on the stairs. Then having to crawl back up to the nearest cleanup bag (I have them stationed at strategic points around the house with all the necessary cleanup tools) and take care of that using my phone as a flashlight (because I grabbed it without thinking when I went to sift litter – go figure, also thank God!) before moving on to handle the original problem.

We thought about just feeding them meat. The ultimate natural solution, right? Cats are carnivores. No. Jingles won’t eat meat. Not kidding. Actually, she’ll eat tuna, but throws it up almost immediately. The vet isn’t concerned. We feed the kittens (now 3 I should add) meat on the side as much as we can, but have to do it when Jingles isn’t around. Don’t say feed them separately, it isn’t worth the hassle. We’ve tried. Also there was bloodshed. I’ll write about it sometime.

Anyway…new cat food. It did not come from China. No, it came from Amazon directly. It was actually one of my requirements. I don’t like buying regular purchases from the store when it’s cheaper online. I buy kitty litter on Amazon too. (Forty pound bags. The delivery guy must hate us.)

The cat food didn’t originally come from China either, I typically look into that sort of thing. Actually The Girl chose this one, so now I will look into that to be sure because they cheat on additives and testing and I love my cats. Clearly given the scenarios I just outlined.

OMG I need to go snuggle a cat now. Or strangle one. No, snuggle one. Randall. She doesn’t fight back.

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N95 Mask Viral Loophole

While joking about the coronavirus is always fun, I was reminded of something that really does need to be addressed. To that end, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: N95 masks. (Or R95, P95, N99, etc. I’m not going to go into the differences, it doesn’t matter for my concern.)

N95

I’m not talking about their scarcity but their efficiency, specifically a design element that people seem to be universally overlooking. Not a flaw per se, just something no one wants to bring up: exhaust valves, or exhalation valves.

Now not all N95 masks have exhaust valves. If you have one that doesn’t, you might notice that breathing is a little harder because you’re breathing through more – and more tightly woven – layers. It’ll retain moisture from your breath when you exhale, making the inside of the mask warm and moist after a while, thus making it even harder to breathe. Some people may not have problems with this, but individuals with respiratory problems (read into that: individuals who really, really need to be careful not to be exposed to the coronavirus) may struggle to breathe or keep the mask seated properly.

Onto the masks that have the exhaust valve. I’m relieved to see repeated online that these should be left for healthcare workers, for people caring for Covid-19 patients, and not used by the general population as a safeguard. I think that is the responsible use for these masks. That being said, I’m dismayed that I’m not seeing a warning that these masks should not be worn by people who might have Covid-19 under any circumstances.

The problem is, of course, the exhaust valve. You breathe out and all that air goes out the valve. This is good for keeping the inside of the mask dry and comfortable and making it easier to breathe. This is bad if you are sick and coughing because the air isn’t flowing through the filter and filtering the coronavirus particles on exhalation – the air and coronavirus particle are flowing unrestricted out the valve. Every time the wearer coughs, those particles flow out as if there wasn’t a mask at all. Also, that mask is essentially ruined. In theory it can be cleaned to be safe, but who would trust it after the wearer had Covid-19 not just the mask was worn in an environment with Covid-19 patients? No one.

The other problem with the exhaust valve is if the mask is old and/or wasn’t stored properly, the rubber seal can get brittle and rigid – thereby not sealing completely and allowing air to bypass the filter and come in through the exhaust valve and straight to the wearer’s nose/mouth. If the mask is being worn by a healthcare worker, I’d like to think those seals are being checked. After all, I learned in the military about checking the seals on gas masks and it became second nature when putting on a mask. Those wearing these masks should have had some training – it wouldn’t take long – and have reminders to check the valve, check the fit, and test the seal every time you put the mask on. The general population, however, wouldn’t necessarily have had that training or the reminders. They also wouldn’t necessarily have replacement seals. For that matter, in the hands of a novice, the mask could be slid on the face and not seated properly so air is slipping in through the sides. There is no point to the mask if air is coming in through the sides. Or any mask for that matter. I see patterns for masks that are really just sneeze guards and I want to scream.

I’ve mentioned before that Greskrendtregk is a prepper so it shouldn’t be surprising that we had some N95 masks. Because The Boy works, I’m in a risk group, and this thing is forecasted to last a while, he kept a few masks for just in case and quietly slipped the others to nurses we knew. This was despite the state order to not accept opened boxes (not “new”) donations. It let me take pictures of the valve in question so you can see the source of my concern:

I used a thin wire to hold up the rubber valve so you can see how it fits together. It’s a simple valve mechanism, and you can see it from the outside and the inside, as well as the thick material that filters the air you breathe.

Now the CDC wants everyone wearing masks, and that isn’t unreasonable. There is some evidence that the virus might be spread from simply breathing, as if coughing wasn’t enough, and at this time researchers haven’t definitively ruled it out as a possibility. That sucks.

If someone in a home tested positive for Covid-19 – and has access to a N95 mask (like us), and doesn’t know the exhaust valve weakness – it could seem like a good idea to have the infected person wear this mask to help protect the rest of the household from the virus. This gives the household a false sense of security. Those not infected don’t take extra precautions (like wear a mask of their own) to protect themselves, and instead leave themselves open to the infection that is being spread with every cough from the person wearing the completely ineffective mask.

Do you see the problem? This could happen. I would bet money this has happened. Worse, as the mask becomes available again and lockdown orders ease before the pandemic itself eases, this sort of scenario is more likely to happen.

So spread the word on the N95 mask. Don’t let sick people wear them. Ever. If there is even a chance someone is sick they shouldn’t be wearing this mask, it makes other people feel safer and they’re not.

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Cats and Coronavirus

As everyone struggles to deal with our new reality, several questions remain unanswered about the source of the pandemic. I was unwillingly awake at 2am and struck with the realization of what surely happened to set humanity on this path. Okay, I was actually struck by Jingles jumping onto the bed/my stomach because she wanted to be petted, but it amounts to the same thing.

The Chinese wet markets are a red herring. Covid-19 didn’t start there, not really. The conspiracy theory that it was developed as a bioweapon doesn’t hold water, but maybe we should take a step back and look at that again. Maybe it was engineered, just not as a weapon. Maybe it had a far more insidious purpose. Something we’d never see in the toilet-paper-buying panic that has gripped us. Developed by a culprit so unthinkable we’d never consider accusing.

You got it: cats.

Before you shrug this off as another hare-brained conspiracy theory, I just want to say that it’s more reasonable than China using it against the U.S. or the U.S. against China, both of which keep popping up. And far more logical than claiming Covid-19 is spread by 5G, another theory circulating out there. And more likely than accusing snakes. (Just because a snake is rumored to have tempted Eve and thus caused the fall of man as a species doesn’t mean they aren’t nice and we should stop demonizing them.)

Who stands to gain from stay-at-home orders and social distancing? Cats. They should have been our prime suspects all along. This pandemic traps us with them 24/7 and encourages us to lavish extra affection on them as a substitute for the time we used to physically spend with friends and family. With the kids out of school, adults who can working from home and adults who can’t temporarily on leave, there is a surplus of family members who turn to their feline fiends friends for solace.

Cat lovers are going to rally and try to cast doubt another direction, confuse the issue, and spare their beloved pets the scorn of humanity. “Why not dogs?” they demand. “Dogs reap the same benefits and give people an excuse to go outside to walk them – something their owners are desperate for by now and the conniving canines enjoy immensely. Plus there are more pet dogs than cats, and since it started in China where dog is on the menu, revenge could be a factor. Lastly, cats can catch it too. They wouldn’t endanger themselves just for a little extra snuggle time.”

Those are excellent points, however:                                                                        

  1. Dogs were domesticated first and have spent so much time with humanity that many of them lack the ability to be this dastardly and duplicitous. There are exceptions, but dogs see humans as companions and generally adore us.
  2. Cats don’t view people as companions so much as servants or minions at best. Creating a situation where we’re forced to be at their beck and call wouldn’t be an ethical challenge for them. Even people who adore cats have to admit they can be assholes. I have three cats, love and spoil them all, and want to scream that they take turns being borderline intolerable.
  3. The death count would disturb dogs and if they were responsible they would have owned up to it by now. Dogs feel remorse. Cats, on the other hand, are unashamed and unapologetic. Yes, the demise of some of their worshippers/servants could prove inconvenient, but overall it’ll still work out to their advantage. After all, while cats might not be sentimental, humans are. And when we are frightened or grieving, the soothing comfort of holding dearly departed Auntie Margo’s precious cat is very human.
  4. A plan this involved would require a lot of animals working in cooperation. A respectable number of dogs congregating to plan would be noticed, whereas cats are smaller and stealthier and a large number loitering behind the grocery store doesn’t make adults fear for the safety of passing children.
  5. From what we know of Covid-19, creating the virus could have been a problem for either species. I think cats would probably have more success convincing a bat, pangolin, and pig (Maybe. Probably.) to have a groovy threesome to make something new. I’m pretty sure they didn’t tell the pig (who’d end up being the carrier) what exactly its part entailed. Cats can be assholes, we’ve been over that. Cats are charismatic on a deeply insidious level. Consider how we can love and loathe them at the same time.
  6. While it’s true cats are survivors at their very core and wouldn’t risk themselves, consider that they’re aren’t actually risking themselves. Cats can possibly get sick, but it doesn’t appear to be dangerous to them. Just a cough, maybe. More often cats are asymptomatic. And – this is the really sinister part of their plan – they can’t transmit Covid-19 to people, but they can catch it from people. This is an ideal situation for maximizing human guilt so they don’t have to ask to be pampered, their guilt-ridden and worried “owners” will trip over themselves to help keep their baby comfortable and happy. Brilliant.

Now that we know, what can we do about it? Sadly, not a lot. But it’s nice to know where we stand.

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