Wednesday, December 27, 2006


There are days when I feel like it is all too much for me. The world seems too cold and uncaring. The circle of life too cruel. It is like I can feel every injustice done to every creature and it makes me want to pull all my hair out.

No, nothing specific happened. These past couple of days I have been inundated with stories of horrible things that people can do. The stories I heard when learning about Home for Life while they were at Mall of America yesterday. The daily forwards I get from my friends in the cat community asking for help because they have come across an animal the world has been unkind to. I feel like no matter how much I do I can't make a dent in this poisonous heap of cruelty. Usually when these feelings come I go snuggle with Dean and my own little rays of sunshine, or I take a quick walk to the dumpster and see who's milling about back there. Tonight, I will have to comfort myself by crawling into my big lonely bed at Dad's house and trying to distract myself with outside reading.

When I first brought up TNR for the dumpster kitties Dean worried I was too sensitive to handle trapping them and seeing them in discomfort. There are days when it can be difficult but I know that good comes from it. I am watching them feel discomfort for one day of what will be happier lives. I also know that I at times see their emotions through my own humans lens. Something that hurts me much more than them.

Tonight we watched The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. It was excellent but it reminded me there will come a day when I have to say good bye to my dumpster kitties*. I know I will miss them more than they will ever miss me. It will hurt like hell, but that hurt will never make me regret doing something when I could have turned my back. I know that no matter how much I feel connected to my animal friends, they are animals who at times seem much further evolved than I, understanding and accepting nature much more readily.

*Don't worry, I already have a plan for caring for them after Dean and I move away.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I'll Have to Remember for Next Time

Yesterday I was in the car with my mom and stepdad, both of whom have been in pharmacy for upwards of 15 years working at the county hospital.

Jokingly I suggested, "The day after Christmas can we celebrate one year of me being boil-free?"

My mom laughed and commented about how often they are seeing strains of antibiotic-resistant infections. They keep filling the same perscription: two strong antibiotics and Vicodin.

"Vicodin! I only got Tylenol with Codeine! What the heck?!"

"If you want Vicodin," my mom said matter-of-factly, "you should tell your doctor you're allergic to Codeine. That's what everyone else does."

Point noted.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Silly raccoon. He thinks he's a kitty!

I fed the dumpster kitties tonight and followed my usual procedure:

  1. Turn on lantern

  2. Pick up empty cans from yesterday so I don't piss off the maintenance men.

  3. Rinse out the water dishes and refill with cold, fresh water.

  4. Dump out 1 gallon Ziploc bag of dry cat food.

  5. Open 2 cans wet cat food

  6. Take the empty cans from yesterday and go around the corner to throw them into the dumpster.

  7. Peak again behind the dumpster with the lantern to see who showed up for dinner.

It was during the last step that I noticed the anomoly. At first I thought it was a very pregnant cat I'd never seen before. As I stood there perplexed it turned around and I was startled to see it was a raccoon instead.

The kitties were not happy about his presence. He developed a pattern where he would walk up to the huddle and then all the cats would hiss at him. As a colony, feral cats have a pack mentality where they watch out for each other but do not willingly welcome new comers. Raccoon was not being deterred by their hissing. He would walk up, scoop up two fistfuls of dry cat food and waddle back a few steps while still on his hind legs. Then he'd eat the food out of the palms of his hands, get back on all fours and approach the group again. This continued until he'd had his fill and waddled back into the woods. I stood there stunned the whole time.

Raccoons make me ever so slightly uncomfortable with their dexterity. Plus they look intelligent. Those two qualities make it possible they could make a run for dominance of the planet. Anyway, raccoons need to eat too and I'll gladly let him eat with the dumpster kitties once in awhile even if it causes a ruckus. I just hope he doesn't start bringing any of his friends.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


The other day I was thinking about how I'm 27 years old and I don't send out Christmas cards. My excuse thus far has been that I'm a student, that finals roll around about the time I should be doing this stuff and every other aspect of my life gets put on the back burner. Well, I have a confession. This year I probably could have done it and I just didn't. And I don't think I ever will send out Christmas cards.

Please, don't misunderstand me. I'm not a scrooge. I love Christmas because I get to spend 10 days in Minnesota for a white Christmas and then come back to paradise. I love the music. I may have been turned off of organized religion years ago, but the sound of a choir singing Christmas music can still give me the chills. I love the food, the excess of sweets and drink. Most of all, I love seeing my family at Christmas time. Letting go of all our worries for a few days and just enjoying each other's company to me is the meaning of Christmas.

But I can't bring myself to sit down with a stack of cards, sign Dean's and my name to them, write out addresses and return addresses. Hell, I can't even bring myself to decide to whom I should send cards.

So please, forgive me family and friends. I love receiving them from you, but if you wish to stop due to my lack of reciprocation I don't blame you one bit. Here is my half-assed attempt to send my holiday greeting to you, my family, my friends and my faithful readers.

Happy Holidays!

Natalie, Dean, Nellie, Wrigley, Allison,
and the Dumpster Kitties

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


When I was a junior in high school, my social studies class was History of the Americas. My teacher was Ms. A (not "Miss", not "Mrs."). She was petite with salt and pepper hair cut close to her head. All we really knew about her was that she loved cats. She started within our high school a chapter of Amnesty International. For class she made us read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

We thought she was a total nut job. It only took me 10 years to realize that she was actually quite enlightened. I hope that despite being misunderstood by her students, she kept trying.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Difficult Choices

Yesterday was the second Sunday of the month. Spay Day. Which meant more trapping. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed the “whore’s” belly bulging again. When she started poking her head around the traps, I had to make a very difficult choice. The Animal Coalition of Tampa, an absolutely phenomenal organization in every respect, will destroy pregnancies of cats brought in for Spay Day. They repeatedly tell you to try to trap pregnant ones to stop the cycle of homeless animals. Logically, I understand this. I really do. But my heart was torn.

I’ve resorted to standing behind the dumpster with a squirt bottle to dissuade the already fixed ones from going in the traps. Certain ones just don’t learn and I can count on them to get trapped several times. Saturday night I had to call my mom to ask her for her always wonderful advice on matters of conscience. I knew that the best thing for the situation was to trap the mama, but I still had to weigh the pros and the cons.

The pros:

  • Maybe she is sick of being pregnant. I know she is the mother to at least two litters already. Maybe she just wants to be done with the carrying and the nursing and wants to be carefree like the rest of them.

  • The worst thing you can do is trap a mother cat who’s nursing. Days away from her litter will cause the kittens to starve. By how far along she is now, I’m certain she can’t be nursing another litter somewhere.

  • The kittens could be born sick.

  • The weather is getting colder and they might struggle.

The cons:

  • She can’t tell me any of this. All she knows is what nature has taught her. Maybe she’ll be sad.

  • She could give birth in my apartment which would be terribly traumatizing for my entire household.

  • I love kittens too much. I don’t want this on my conscience. If I know they are out there, I can look for them in 6-8 weeks and try to save them for Cat Call.

My mom helped a lot. We discussed the options and ultimately it was my decision. Realizing that doing this to her babies was my decision and not hers made me make up my mind for certain. Without delving into very touchy subjects, let me clarify I am pro-choice for us people. Not knowing what the mama’s choice would be I have to err on the side of life and let nature take its course.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Boys are Stupid.

Dean and I decided that we weren’t going to buy each other anything big for Christmas this year. We just got married (admittedly very inexpensively) and bought a new laptop and are in the midst of sterilizing a colony of feral cats. Plus, we don’t need much and are easily satisfied. However, during our conversation, Dean made a very startling assumption.

“I don’t even know what I would get you if we did want to buy nice things for each other. I mean, I bought you a diamond ring six months ago and since we’ve been together I’ve bought you a necklace, a bracelet and two pairs of earring. There’s nothing left!”

“Dean! What’s the number one rule about jewelry?”


“The major thing I’ve taught you. Besides cut, color and clarity and no heart-shapes?”


“A woman can never have too much of it! If you are EVER, EVER at a loss for what to get me you can ALWAYS get me JEWELRY!”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Yes, I'm Still Alive (Barely)

I survived my candidacy. But not without emotional and physical injury.

On Thursday, I dropped off copies of my candidacy proposal to all the members of my Ph.D. committee to read before my presentation on Tuesday. On Monday I got a message to go see Dr. R (one of the members) because he had some comments on my manuscript. He had gone through the document with a fine tooth comb, starting with page one.

Although the phenomenon of exchange bias was discovered almost 50 years ago, its microscopic origins are still not understood.

His comment:

“I looked up your reference for this. The landmark paper on exchange bias was published in 1956. That’s not almost 50 years ago, it's exactly 50 years ago."

Okay. So I had taken a lot of my information (including this opening sentence) from a paper I published last year, when exchange bias was 49 years young. Oops.

Most if his comments were grammatical in nature. For the most part I really appreciate having my grammar corrected. It should make me a better writer. However, this meeting gave me a full blown anxiety attack. If he was so thorough reading this manuscript, what would he be like during the presentation? I pictured making one trivial mistake and that being my downfall, flunking out of graduate school. When I got back to my lab I was crying and the boys had no idea what to do.

Luckily, the presentation itself went well. There were lots of questions. The good, brainstorming kind, not the bad, doubtful kind. It was pretty informal. Dr. R had resolved all of his issues with my manuscript before the presentation so he stayed quiet until I showed one graph he had a problem with. Dr. Hari jumped to my defense immediately and offered a pretty good explanation. After it was over, Dr. Hari took James and me out for Indian food. It was awesome.

Incidentally, Dr. Hari sent out an email shortly after the presentation to all the other members of my lab, asking them to join him in congratulating me for my promotion from lowly grad student to Ph.D. Candidate. I wasn’t on this list. About five people hit “reply all” to congratulate me, but since I wasn’t on the original list I didn’t receive any of them. Periodically the past two days James has gotten the emails and hollered, “So-and-so says congratulations!”

I mentioned there was physical injury as well. Like many people, when I am under stress I break out with cold sores. However, unlike many people I get them in my throat rather than on my mouth. It hurts like a beast. Oh the pain. So I felt them coming on Monday night. It hurt Tuesday but I persevered. Today I am still in a lot of pain, hoping it’ll turn around soon.

Things don’t really slow down much despite my efforts to stop the world from turning. I mentioned I had a final Tuesday morning only a couple hours before my candidacy. I didn’t open my notebook once to study and I ended up getting a 27/30. One of the points I missed because while plugging in numbers to a formula I wrote:

1 x 0 = 1

This is apparently not a correct statement. The TA, who knew I was probably concentrating on my candidacy, circled it in red and wrote “Nervous?” next to it.

I have a final presentation for my marketing class tomorrow and then trapping kitties on Saturday. Oh, and we have helium. I am actually looking forward to getting on a plane and flying to the frigid, arctic North just to get away from some of this stuff.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Buckle Down

I'm sorry, dear readers, for being a rather negligent blogger. Those of you that are still students or not far removed from your student days know that this is prime crunch time. I have finals on Tuesday and Friday and my candidacy on Tuesday as well. I've been glued to my computer working on my proposal and my presentation. When I'm not doing these things, I'm glued to my family, all of whom get noisy when my attention is focused on other things for too long.

After I turned in my 40 page paper, Dr. Hari read it and made seemingly minor suggestions. Now that I'm a senior student, his editing doesn't come with written-in sentences. Instead he says "add a paragraph about this or that" which results in more reading and references. He also wanted me to switch around the order of the sections, bringing the last three sections up front and sending the first three to the end (not counting intro, etc). All these changes mean a complete reordering of references, figure numbers and all that piddly crap that will bite you if you don't pay attention. He also initially suggested I cut out a lot of content to make it a more manageable 30 pages. Five minutes after I left his office though he came running down to the lab breathless, a copy of a fellow grad student's 70 page proposal in hand telling me NOT to shorten mine after all.

Now I am working on my presentation. That is sorta fun since I get to draw pictures, play with fonts, colors, etc. My creative side can shyly peak its nose out a little. But this all takes time and I've put blogging on the back burner. I'm not consciously taking a break or anything. Just prioritizing. For now. Bear with me, and expect me to be back in full force after my real life slows down.