Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dear Randy,

Two years ago today, I had to say good bye to you forever. There are some times when that day seems like a lifetime away, so much has happened since then. Other times, it feels like a giant wound that just keeps getting reopened. I don't remember everything thing about the 30 days you spent in the hospital. I don't remember every single visit, every step forward or set of steps back. But I remember every single wretched thing about the day you died.

On Thursday, January 26th, 2006 you had a great day. The following day, you began the downward spiral. By Saturday, your mother had requested all treatment be stopped except for a morphine drip. On Sunday, January 29th, I picked myself up and went to the hospital with the purpose of saying good bye to you. You were unresponsive and I knew that you would not have wanted me to put myself through the wringer every single day until you passed. So I drove the mile and a half from my home to Moffitt Cancer Center. I wore a maroon Polo shirt, blue jeans and brown leather sandals. Isn't it ridiculous that I remember that? I remember seeing you so small, so weak and so different from the man I knew. You were tossing and turning, but not aware of your surroundings. I held your hand, and said your name loudly. You turned and our eyes locked for the last time. I couldn't make out any recognition in them as I said "good bye" with tears running down my face. I went and sat down on the chair in the corner of that awful room to collect myself. I could see the nurses at the station across the hall trying not to stare, but I could feel their sympathy. I remember wondering how many times a day they saw this type of thing and how they kept their sanity.

After I managed to pull myself together, I drove home and tried to have a day. I didn't know how long we'd have to deal with you being partly here but mostly gone. That afternoon, Jill came over to teach me how to use my new sewing machine. We sewed pillows for my couch, which I had just bought new slipcovers for. We sat at my table, avoiding the obvious and just talked about nothing. Later we ordered a pizza and garlic bread, my treat for her helping. I asked Jill if she wanted to sleep over. I thought she might not want to go home to an empty house, but she surprised me and said she wanted to just be by herself.

Dean and I watched TV for awhile and then went to bed. I couldn't sleep but could hear Dean's steady deep breathing as my mind wandered to the inevitable. At 11:18 pm, the phone rang and I just knew. I answered it with a knot in my stomach to hear Jill say in the tiniest voice I've ever heard, "He's gone, Natalie."

Do you want to know the dumbest thing? It took me one and a half years to step foot in the Moffitt Cancer Center, even though passing through it while on campus is often much more convenient than avoiding it. When I finally stepped through the door the familiar scent from that day left me nearly paralyzed. But I went in and have done it several times since. I still think I see you sometimes when someone with your shape enters my peripheral vision. I dream of you often, sometimes in them I know you are dead, other times it's as if nothing has changed and I'm upset to wake up and remember the truth. Then there are moments that take me utterly by surprise because your memory catches me off guard.

One such moment happened when I was cleaning out the medicine drawer. When Allie was a kitten, she had a runny eye. The vet said it was herpes and that I should crush up a half of an l-lysine tablet and mix it in some wet food twice a day. I quickly learned that if I didn't crush the pill up well enough, she ate around the bigger pieces and left them. Since crushing the pills to a fine powder two times a day was difficult and time consuming, one day I took the bottle with me to the lab, planning to crush a few with the mortar and pestle and then use a small scoop to measure out what I needed from the powder. When you caught wind of my idea, You became excited about it because you used a mortar and pestle everyday and "developed just the right technique" for such a job. I remember watching you that day, your huge hands diligently crushing up pills for a sick little kitten and my heart was warmed. You loved my kitties (and everyone else's!) so very much. When I stopped just feeding the ferals and started doing TNR and kitten rescue, I couldn't help but think what a kick you would have gotten out of snuggling the babies. Maybe you would have even kept one for yourself.

So just a couple of days ago when I came across that bottle of l-lysine with some powder still in it, well I just couldn't bring myself to throw it away. Maybe in a couple more years I'll be ready. But right now I'm still taking my time.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

High School

I hated high school. HATED. IT. Not in a "Phew, glad that's over!" kind of way, but in an absolute detesting it, dreading every day of it kind of way. It wasn't like I was ridiculed daily, or bullied. I had a few close friends, one of them I still keep in contact with. I tried hanging out with a couple different crowds but I wasn't athletic, wasn't into drinking or drugs and the brainiacs seemed too immature for me.

One of my closest friends my first couple years of high school, Carrie, gradually got in with the cool crowd and was one of the most popular girls in school by the time we graduated. We still hung out senior year, but she always wanted to invite people from the in crowd and didn't understand why this made me uncomfortable. I didn't know how to talk to them, how to relate to them. She always said that they thought I was really nice, but that didn't make me feel like I belonged. Carrie would always tell me that the popular gang was receptive and if I just sat with them at lunch they would start talking to me, I could just show up at their parties and no one would blink an eye. But injecting myself into a group of people with which I had nothing in common didn't seem like it would satisfy a need within me to connect. So much to her dismay, I never did. I think this made her mad, like she had to choose between them and me. There were more of them, and I certainly couldn't get her a date so I don't blame her for spending most of her time with them. In hindsight, I'm a little impressed she stuck with me at all.

So basically, as a high schooler I was hyper-aware that I didn't fit in. Some of my friends didn't care that they were on the outskirts, others never seemed to notice. But I always felt angry that high school had to be so much about being normal. Normal as in sterile, boring, conformist. I felt reminded everyday that your worth in high school was based on your athletic ability, which guys are interested in you, how many people signed your yearbook. So when it came time to graduate, I wasn't really able to look back with good nature and simply think that high school kinda sucked. I really just wanted to forget it all. Put it behind me and start life as a student of the University of Minnesota, where there were 50,000 people. I had to fit in somewhere. And I did. I made great friends there.

But I still feel like there is a chasm between what I feel about those days and what others feel. So many people keep in touch with their high school clique, and it always reminds me that I didn't really have that. As much as I try to pretend those years didn't exist, I'm reminded that for some people, those days were really good. And I get a little jealous.

I have one friend from high school that I still keep in touch with, Jessica. We were close in high school, and both went to the U of MN. We talk much more about the college days than the high school days. She didn't fit in well either, but didn't care. She still likes to keep up with the gossip from the popular crowd and tells me who got married, who got divorced, who has children, who's in jail.

This past summer was our 10 year reunion. Jessica desperately wanted to go, even though she lives in California. Ironically, I had no intention of going even though I happened to spend the whole summer in Minneapolis. But Jessica scoured the online newspapers, had her parents look for announcements in the mail and checked the high school website often. Nothing. It seems we weren't having a reunion.

I bring all this up because out of the blue Carrie emailed me a couple months back. She hunted for me on the internets (I'm not too hard to find) and wanted to know what I was up to. I haven't spoken with her since freshman year of college. And rather than looking back nostalgically recognizing the awkwardness of that time period, I still wanted nothing to do with it. I wrote her a short note back telling her I was married, a physicist, living in Florida. She told me what was going on with her, how she still kept in touch with the popular crowd (not surprising) and was disappointed not to see me at the reunion, which was apparently by invitation only. Not announced publicly. Reading this brought back all the feelings of exclusion. And anger for poor Jessica who went out of her way to find a reunion, only to not be invited. I never returned Carrie's second email.

So if you could stand to read this much of my whining about something that happened ten years ago, give me your input. How did you feel about high school, and do you still carry those feelings with you? I recently both read Prep and listened to an episode of This American Life where people were still pissed off about high school and I felt like I related a little too well. But in both these stories, it is stressed that so much of those feelings are perspective, not necessarily reality. Carrie is probably right, if I would have just tried to fit in, my experience might have been better. Do you agree?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Baby Steps

In line with my New Year's Resolution to be more environmentally conscious, I bought a couple of reusable bags from Publix. I figured with these and maybe one or two more we can do most of our grocery shopping without plastic bags. Fermicat brought up the common cat owner conundrum. Aren't those plastic bags good for the litter box? (That's what Wrigley seems to be thinking!) We have so many right now that even cutting back by 60-75% we'll have more than enough to last us until we move. And there is no way I'm packing plastic bags and moving them to our next destination. So getting these reusable ones seems like the best option for now. When we move, we'll have to replenish our stockpile.

Monday, January 14, 2008


I swiped this from Fermicat. Because it's time for a new post, and I can't think of anything better.


Q. What is your salad dressing of choice?
A. The Silver Palate Lemon Garlic Herb.

Q. What is your favorite fast food restaurant?
A. Panera.

Q. What is your favorite sit down restaurant?
A. Lee Roy Selmon's.

Q. On average, what size tip do you leave at a restaurant?
A. >20%

Q. What food could you eat every day for two weeks and not get sick of?
A. Vietnamese pho soup and spring rolls.

Q. What are your pizza toppings of choice?
A. Green peppers and olives.

Q. What do you like to put on your toast?
A. Butter, cinnamon, and sugar.


Q. What is your wallpaper on your computer?
A. A picture I took of the lobby ceiling at the Bellagio in Las Vegas on our wedding day.

Q. How many televisions are in your house?
A. One.


Q. Are you right-handed or left-handed?
A. Right.

Q. Have you ever had anything removed from your body?
A. Two boils and my wisdom teeth.

Q. When was the last time you had a cavity?
A. Maybe ten years ago. I honestly don't remember.

Q. What is the last heavy item you lifted?
A. Cat food.

Q. Have you ever been knocked unconscious?
A. No.


Q. If it were possible, would you want to know the day you were going to die?
A. Yes. I hate surprises.

Q. If you could change your name, what would you change it to?
A. I like Lakshmi, but it doesn't really fit me. I hang out with too many Indians.

Q. What color do you think looks best on you?
A. Periwinkle.

Q. Have you ever swallowed a non-food item by mistake?
A. Bugs, lint, etc.

Q. Have you ever saved someone’s life?
A. Do kitties count?

Q. Has someone ever saved yours?
A. No.


Q. Would you kiss a member of the same sex for $100?
A. I've done it for free.

Q. Would you allow one of your little fingers to be cut off for $200,000?
A. Ick. No.

Q. Would you never blog again for $50,000?
A. Yep, sorry guys.

Q. Would you pose naked in a magazine for $250,000?
A. If they'd take me!

Q. Would you drink an entire bottle of hot sauce for $1000?
A. Yes.

Q. Would you, without fear of punishment, take a human life for $1,000,000?
A. No way.


Q. What is in your left pocket?
A. Nothin. I'm wearing jammies.

Q. Is Napoleon Dynamite actually a good movie?
A. Heck, yeah!

Q. Do you have hardwood or carpet in your house?
A. Carpet. Yuck.

Q. Do you sit or stand in the shower?
A. Stand.

Q. Would you live with roommates?
A. No, I'm too old and set in my ways.

Q. How many pairs of flip flops do you own?
A. About 6.

Q. Last time you had a run-in with the cops?
A. Septmeber 2007 for public drinking in Chicago. *blush*

Q. Who is number 1 on your Top 8?
A. I don't know what this means, but I'll say Deano.


Q: Last Friend you talked to?
A: Crazy cat friend.

Q: Last person who called you?
A: My boss (I know, sad).

Q: Last person you hugged?
A: Deano.

Q: Last person to stick their foot in your face?
A: Wrigley. On my forehead.


Q: Number?
A: 3

Q: Season?
A: Spring


Q: Missing someone?
A: Everyone in MN.

Q: Mood?
A: Up and down.

Q: Listening to?
A: Dean laughing.

Q: Watching?
A: Colbert Report.

Q: Worrying about?
A: Dissertation, job hunt, you name it.


Q: First place you went this morning?
A: Post office.

Q: What can you not wait to do?
A: Graduate!

Q: What's the last movie you saw in theater?
A: The Departed (I think, it's been awhile...)

Q: Do you smile often?
A: Yes.

Q: Are you a friendly person?
A: I think I'm friendly but not outgoing.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Making the Mature Decision Really Sucks

A little over a month ago, I found a litter of three kittens. The mom of these kittens is the same one responsible for many litters and has evaded all attempts at trapping. Luckily, she lives within eyesight of their feeding place and I found these babies when they were still young enough. After finding this litter, I started making phone calls to see who could take them and foster them until they are tame enough and get them good homes. All the organizations that have taken kittens from me before were up to their eyeballs in kittens and I was turned down by all of them. As a last ditch resort, I posted a message on my university's list server and I got a bite. A really nice woman whose fiance just got her into doing cat rescue after growing up in a kitty foster home. The couple is very nice and they agreed to take the three kittens and try to socialize them. If they were too old to be socialized, they could live as ferals in their large back yard. It seems like whenever I feel I am at the end of the rope with this cat thing, more caring, generous people come forward and help.

It was during one of the first attempts at trapping these kittens that we found Dixie and her sibling. Dixie went easily into the trap. I've seen her sibling only twice since, and Dean has seen it once. Unfortunately, I have little hope at this point of getting to it in time for it to be properly socialized. After trapping Dixie I was freaking out not knowing what to do with her. I explained the new situation to the foster lady who still agreed to take her. As you all know by now, in the meantime my mom and step dad decided they couldn't live without her, and subsequently Dixie spent two and a half weeks at our home. After successfully (I think, mom may disagree!) socializing her and becoming very attached to her, I flew her up with me to Minneapolis for Christmas and handed her over. It was a perfect situation, I got to stay with her (and my parents) while adjustments were made, and I'm ecstatic knowing I get to see her often and watch her grow. And she is doing fantastic. But still, it was tough.

In the meantime, about a week into fostering Dixie we trapped the first of the three. She is hard to describe so I will show a picture:

A friend of a friend was interested in taking one of my kittens, so I called him and we tried to work something out. The good news was that he had experience with ferals and was willing to take her and tame her himself, which would have been necessary since I was about to leave for the holidays. The bad news was his girlfriend wasn't quite ready for a kitty. In the meantime, this little one stayed with us a couple days before I drove her across town to her foster home. She is doing great. But giving her up kinda sucked.

The night before leaving for Minneapolis, we caught the second of the three. A brown tabby (he looked just like Wrigley as a baby) but I was in too much of a hurry to take a photo of him. I dropped him off at the same foster home late that night. He currently has a home waiting for him after he gets just a little more people-friendly. I'm very happy about that, no mixed feelings.

There was still one more kitten out there which Heather and her boyfriend tried trapping several times while I was away. I was concerned he was getting a little too old to be socialized, but I remembered the foster couple's willingness to try hard and keep them if they didn't warm up. Dean and I kept a close eye on him while feeding and over the weeks I was gone and after I got back. Dean fell in love with this little one's spunkiness, watching it run around in the wilderness and attacking unsuspecting adult cats. I have to admit the little bugger grew on me too. I tried trapping it Friday and Saturday. Sunday I finally trapped him, a little "cow kitty":

I called the foster couple anticipating bringing him over Sunday night. They didn't return my call. I didn't know if I had upset them or if they didn't want to give me bad news about the other kittens. I was about out of my mind. In the meantime, we kept the kitty in the bathroom, and subsequently socialized him a little. By yesterday he was sitting in my lab, rubbing up against my face and eager to play with our grown up cats. Unfortunately, they didn't like him very much so we had to keep the poor little guy separated. Yesterday we had resigned ourselves to keeping him since he was too old for other rescue groups and the foster people were seemingly avoiding me. It was literally while we were picking out names for him that we got the call that the foster couple could take him.

That was rough. I asked Dean if he wanted to tell them no and keep the kitten anyway. It wasn't a matter of wanting to, it was making a mature decision. We knew we could have taken on another kitty, one that needed a home and was all out of options. But it was clear, this one was going to do just fine. The foster couple would love him, and I am confident if they are willing to give him up, someone will adopt him in no time.

Alas, ours is the home for wayward cats. We adopted Nellie because she was dumped either right before or right after having a litter of kittens. People adopted her cute little babies, but moms don't go as fast. Wrigley came to us before the Tampa Bay Humane Society changed their policy to no-kill for space. We couldn't roll the dice on him and didn't know about the other great rescue organizations here. And Allison was a black cat (typically the toughest to adopt out) in another unfriendly shelter. So we'll stay that way, and be here when needed. But in the meantime, let me just summarize. In the last month we've taken in this:

and this:

and this:

They came. They stayed. They moved on. And our hearts broke just a little.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

I've Still Got It

A lot of days I feel old. Many of you may laugh at this considering I am still (just barely) under 30, but hear me out. I work on a university campus in Florida where the average age is about 19 and the year round attire consists of mini skirts, halter tops and strappy sandals. I am several years (and sizes) removed from this wardrobe and my job mostly requires I dress for functionality and comfort. And honestly I can't help feeling a pang of envy at the younger girls strutting around campus, all too aware that all male eyes are on them.

That is why it made my day yesterday when the guy working at Chipotle (rated an "A" by the Better World Shopper, I might add) checked me out. He was embarrassingly young, heavily tattooed and pierced, and totally hot. I was digging through my wallet for a $20 bill and when I pulled it out and handed it to him, I saw that he was looking at me in a way that cannot be confused with anything else but interest. He didn't check me out the way older guys occasionally do, with their peripheral vision while doing something else like conversing or eating. He checked me out in the confident and completely unapologetic way that young guys do. When I made eye contact with him, giving him a teasing "I caught you" look, he just grinned. And I left a dollar in the tip jar.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Resolution 2008: Be More Like My Mom

I remember writing last year about all the twist and turns my life took in 2006. As far as 2007 went, there isn't too much to report. Besides spending more than three months away from Deano which understandably left me a little changed there wasn't a specific "things will never be the same" moment. I see that as a good thing, because whether I'm ready or not, 2008 will be a big year for us. By this time next year, I will be a Ph.D. living in a different city. And almost everything else I can think of will be completely different.

I usually don't do New Year's Resolutions. But when I was in Minneapolis for Christmas, I came to a conclusion I'm guessing few 28-year-old women come to: I need to be more like my mother. Several months ago, my mom and stepdad vowed to change the way they live, giving up their favorite products and amenities in favor of environmental and social responsibility. First, they stopped drinking bottled water to reduce plastic bottle waste and instead began to bring large acrylic bottles filled with tap water to work. Then they took another step by refusing plastic bags at the grocery stores and bought several canvas bags. They bought bags both specific to the grocery stores they frequent and general ones for all other stores. This sounds pretty simple in theory, but in practice it proved difficult because many stores are firmly set in their ways and not very open to being handed a handful of canvas bags. But they stayed firm in their resolution and have not collected more than a few bags over the following months.

Lastly, they have done research mostly using the Better World Shopping Guide to find out which companies deal in fair trade, treat their employees well, minimize waste and pollution, give back to their local communities and don't participate in unnecessary animal testing. This required major changes from giving up favorite hair products (Biolage), snacks (Nabisco) , beer (Miller) and candy (Nestle) in favor of more conscientious brands. It is currently prohibitively expensive and time consuming to only buy from the top companies because they are generally all-natural, organic and the companies themselves extremely small and not widely distributed. But my mom and stepdad have vowed to keep all their products at "C" grade or above and always choose the better of two similar products.

This year, I am also vowing to cut out the worst offenders, buy more from the "good guys" and generally be more aware of the practices of businesses that want my money. The Better World Shopper likens such shopping to "voting with your checkbook". I'm not idealistic enough to think that I alone can make a difference, but my money is hard-earned and I should be more careful who gets it.

One more thing. I should mention that my mom and stepdad have always been environmentally aware. They have always driven fuel-efficient cars and are advocates for nature conservation in Northern Minnesota where they own a lake home. But, like the best of those among us, they felt that they could afford to put some time and money into bettering themselves and this year I am trying to do the same.