Monday, August 31, 2009

Save the Babies

I've written before about stupid things you can waste money on at Williams-Sonoma, but this stopped me in my tracks.

They are selling this monstrous countertop machine, the Beabo Babycook:

I don't have kids and I've never willingly cooed over an infant, but this upsets me. Cooking babies — French ones, juicy ones, fat ones, whatever — is just flat-out wrong. I know Williams-Sonoma is desperate to come up with new things to make gullible consumers buy, buy, buy, and I know that die-hard foodies will eat anything, but come on!

I also think the baby powder industry has a lot of explaining to do. More in a future post.

Moving Day

I took a tour of some Back Bay alleys and Beacon Hill streets this morning, and found them loaded with trash and cast-off furnishings, as is customary around September 1, Boston's official moving day. I wish I'd taken my camera to document everything I saw, but I was technically out for exercise, and besides, everything will have vanished by the end of the day.

It's interesting to see what people keep in their apartments until they have to move, and it's equally interesting to speculate about why the toss what they do. I can see why you might toss your ugly student furniture — but won't you need an ironing board, a vacuum cleaner, and a full-length mirror wherever you're going? Or are you moving halfway across the world, working on a cruise ship, or entering a convent?

I was pleased to see that there were no formerly live Christmas trees out there, so far. I did see a tiny pale-brown one, but it was so small it hardly counts. But the amount of pure garbage I saw, whether in whole, tied bags or ripped, destroyed ones, was just staggering. If I were in "waste management," like Tony Soprano, I'd plan my summer vacation to coincide with September 1.

We try to keep our carbon footprint small, and we're embarrassed to be putting out a 3/4-filled trash bag twice a week — it's mostly cat litter — and several bags of recycling. It's sad to see how many people don't following the recycling rules — I saw ripped plastic trash bags loaded with paper, for example.

On a busy trash day, I like to imagine how I'd furnish a studio from the cast-offs I see. Among today's pickings, I passed many boring beige sofas and mattresses in various states of decay. On Garden Street, there was a cute maple desk with seven drawers. I also walked past metal beds, end tables, a brass table lamp, melamine bookcases, decent office chairs, ugly rugs, a Mac, filing cabinets galore, and a few of those cylindrical chrome trash cans. Also, a cotton-lined wicker hamper in perfect condition. A large aquarium with accessories, behind a private school. At least one kennel-cab for a very small pet. There are also two early 20th-century wooden dressers sitting in the parking lot of the frat house around the corner. With refinishing or a coat of paint, these would be excellent additions to my imaginary studio.

I wouldn't stock the imaginary medicine cabinet with any of the medications that are lying all over Beacon Hill sidewalks today — including albuterol canisters, which aren't cheap.

The only item I considered snatching for myself was a Brita water pitcher in great shape. Although it was much newer than ours, it was also smaller, so I left it to the serious pickers.

Speaking of them, I only spotted the usual shabby alley crowd going through the Back Bay trash for bottles and cans. But in Beacon Hill, I saw a well-dressed couple going through boxes of trash by their double-parked car. The wife was exclaiming loudly about some scary-looking beige bathroom rugs she'd found. The husband smiled and shrugged at me, and I smiled and shrugged back. One woman's trash is another woman's treasure.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

For Cat Lovers Only: An Update on Bunny

While we were away in Maine for a week, we boarded our cat Bunny, who has low-grade intestinal lymphoma, at our vet. We were noticing small changes in her behavior, and it seemed like a good way to have some cat experts monitor and evaluate her day to day.

It turns out to have been a wise move, because she's developed heart disease, probably from the steroids that she's been taking to treat the cancer. Our vet was careful to say that our accidentally overdosing her on steroids for about a week was probably not a factor, but I don't know.... she may have just been being kind.

For the first few days at the vet, Bunny was nosy and demanded attention from everyone, even sticking out her paws from her cage to smack at a broom.

But she developed breathing problems over last weekend, and our vet took X-rays, discovered an enlarged heart and fluid retention around her lungs, and started her on three more medications. She's hopeful that these will stabilize the heart problems.

We're hopeful, too. She's clearly not herself, and it's very sad right now.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Acadian Nightmare

The post–Hurricane Bill seas today were even more spectacular than they were on Saturday. The morning rain cleared, the sun was bright and hot, and we headed back to the Thunder Hole area after breakfast, knowing that hundreds of others would have the same idea. Parking was a challenge.

The observation deck at Thunder Hole was closed and locked, with warning signs posted. But the surrounding ledges and cliffs — even more dangerous sightseeing spots — and the roadside trail were packed with chattering people with cameras. Some of the people on rock ledges close to the water were taking real risks with their lives because there were rogue waves; there were too many people and too many risky places along the cliffs for the park rangers to control. We walked further down towards Otter Cliffs and found our own shady spot to watch the waves in the last hour or two before high tide.

I've never seen a natural spectacle this magnificent. The tides were mesmerizing: violent, scary, beautiful, ever-changing. In my mind I heard a soundtrack of songs I haven't remembered in years and never planned to revisit: "Surfin' Safari," and the themes from Hawaii-Five-0 and Dark Shadows, one of my favorite shows as a kid. I'd completely forgotten those dark, Gothic waves crashing through the credits.

Suddenly a few tiny, dark, bobbing objects appeared in the foamy waves in front of us. I thought it was driftwood, but a woman sitting near me let out a shout. There were three people trapped in those immense waves. They were clearly working to remain vertical as if they were practicing drownproofing. The waves were dragging them past us towards the rocks of Thunder Hole, surging over them and then forcing them back to the surface. They must have been hit by an unexpectedly high wave and knocked from their viewing spot on some nearby ledge. All we could do was watch in horror, not believing our eyes.

A family of four, including a teenaged, ponytailed son, was standing next to us. We stood and pointed and watched until we couldn't see the figures anymore. My distance vision isn't great. "Do you still see them?" I finally asked the boy. He looked me in the eye and looked down. "I can't see them anymore." They were being pulled down the coast by riptides but kept surfacing after every towering wave. Then they were gone. People around us had been running around to find a ranger and dialing their phones, and rangers soon came along, clearing the rocks of spectators and announcing that help was on the way. We continued to stare into the waves for what seemed like a half hour, hoping to see those bobbing heads again, or a Coast Guard patrol boat, or a helicopter. We saw only the surf.

Emergency vehicles arrived and people were told to clear the parking lot and the road of cars to make room for an emergency station. The park closed down and a massive traffic jam built up behind us. Ambulances carried off a few injured people, who must have also been swept down towards the sea. As we walked to our car we came upon them, bleeding and dazed, carefully being strapped onto stretchers. They were conscious; we were relieved. We finaly saw a boat heading towards the area where we last saw the swimmers, a spotter plane flew overhead. It had been a long time since the swimmers disappeared.

Hours later, we still felt stunned. To have stood there, helplessly, watching those three people vanishing under that wild water.

There were no new reports until late afternoon, and we continued to hope that the three had found safety on the rocks out of our line of vision. According to the latest stories this evening, everyone has been accounted for and one little girl has died. I will be so relieved if they really have survived, but I can't forget what we saw and how we felt. Will we read stories soon about how they survived that pounding surf? I hope so. Will this teach others to stay in safe spots in wild weather and waves? Don't count on it.

We drove home, encountering some washed-out, rock-strewn roadways — some had giant waves crashing over them, in fact — but found our own harbor, Southwest, remarkably calm, just as always. The skies were clear, the sun was hot. You'd never know there was such drama and sorrow on the other side of this little island.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Acadian High Seas

Today, Hurricane Bill swept up the coast, and like all Proper New Englanders, we were curious to see the surf. We went to Acadia National Park and took the Park Loop Road to Thunder Hole. A natural sea cavern hewn out of the cliffs, Thunder Hole makes an eponymous noise and shoots up massive spray and waves under the right tidal conditions. There's always some kind of a crowd there; the tour buses always stop. But as millions of Acadia visitors worldwide can attest, 9,999 times out of 10,000, Thunder Hole is a complete let-down. Tourists expectantly watch boring little waves flop in and out of the cavern, and they don't hear much of anything, let alone thunder.

Things were different today. The surf was high and Thunder Hole actually thundered. Tourists covered the rocks and the most foolhardy went close to the edges of the surrounding cliffs and down the steps to the observation deck, which was buffeted by strong waves. You can see a couple of soaked kids below:

The waves got stronger as the tide came in and started tossing those kids around. The spray from the waves crashing against the cliffs can reach 40 feet high, and almost nailed the people on the high cliff. I can't say whether people who take risks with raging seas and rogue waves are stupid, ignorant, or have calculated their odds, but most of the people who were sitting near us were just appalled at the parents of these kids.

A park ranger finally arrived and shooed protesting kids and their parents away from the crashing waves, right after this photo. She stopped a whole troupe of kids who were marching eagerly all the way down the deck in their rain ponchos, followed by their mom.

This isn't the greatest photo, but you can still see what happened next. We were sitting safely away from the worst of the action, on some high cliffs closer to the road. But shortly after this photo we moved and the people who replaced us got wet.

Some people never learn, like this guy.

We went home and found the other side of Mt. Desert Island to be hot and sunny. We had ice cream and turned it into a pool day, then had a late and lively dinner on the porch of Guinness and Porcelli's in Bar Harbor. Some hurricane, we thought. The rains didn't arrive until late at night.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Foggy Day in Maine

After two warm, sunny days, tailor-made for lounging poolside at our inn on Mt. Desert Island, we awoke today to clouds, fog, and a touch of drizzle. The first signs of Hurricane Bill. I didn't mind. I like moody days in Maine as much as sunny ones. After blueberry pancakes and an addictive combo the innkeepers invented — a "trifle" made with layers of strawberry yogurt, sweet whipped cream, crumbled coffee cake, and fresh berries — we went to visit some local gardens.

First, Asticou Azalea Garden, a Japanese-influenced garden in Northeast Harbor:

I should have known that the garden has funding from the Rockefeller family. Like their own garden, which opens to the public once a week by phone reservation (the number, which we have, is a carefully guarded island secret), every blade of grass in this garden is manicured.

The landscapes were especially romanic in the mist and fog.

Even the spider webs are beautifully composed:

Then we headed to Thuya Lodge and Garden, another historic, more colorful, less formal Northeast Harbor garden, originally created by Charles Savage. We visited with one of the gardeners who was greeting people in Savage's Lodge, which is maintained as a house museum and gardening library.

I couldn't resist trying to capture the misty rain on these delicate flowers:

Usually the flowers peaked in late July, but the gardener explained that peak season was a month late this year because of all the June and July rains. We were just in time. He also gave us the secret for their enormous, healthy annuals and perennials: seafood compost, primarily, along with a number of other organic mulches.

After Thuya Garden, we had lunch in town and drove around the Park Loop Road, admiring the vanishing, foggy views and searching unsuccessfully for deer. Any old deer would do, but we were particularly hoping to see the white deer we spotted last month. Ha.

The fog made Otter Cliffs look moody and mysterious. We're used to seeing the water sparking and a bright blue sky. I might prefer this:

We sat on the rocks for a long time, watching the surf and trying to figure out exactly where the sea spread before us met the sky:

I hope we'll return shortly after Bill passes through, when the surf should be considerably more dramatic.

We returned to the inn, read in the hot tub, went to a little cocktail party the innkeepers hosted, and made a simple dinner in our kitchen. Now we're watching the Sox get pummeled by the Yankees — one glaring flaw in an otherwise splendid day. At least we finally have Jerrry Remy for company.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Postcards from Southwest Harbor, Maine

It's good to be back on Mount Desert Island. We drove up Coastal Route 1 yesterday, stopping in Kittery for J. Crew, Freeport for the British Store, Wiscasset for lunch on the pier, Thomaston for a visit with old friends, and Camden for an iced coffee and a grasshopper brownie. It's a long, long drive but it's always scenic, and by now we know where to stop for fun along the way. We arrived at the inn at sundown, with a piping-hot pizza from the Little Notch, and had a quick swim and a dip in the hot tub before the mosquitoes took over.

As usual the inn emptied shortly after breakfast (chocolate muffins, fresh fruit, cheese omelets), with everyone taking off to hike, bike, kayak, and drive through Acadia National Park. We put on our swimsuits and commandeered the lounge chairs by the pool. Under a gently waving tiki umbrella, we sipped ice tea, reread Harry Potter novels, napped, swam in the pool, and soaked in the hot tub. This is my idea of a perfect vacation. We'll probably go climb some mountain eventually, but there'll be an excellent lunch afterward.

For dinner, we strolled down the street to the grocery store, and then went up the street to pick up a crab roll and a lobster to go at Beal's lobster pound. We watched the sun set over the harbor as we waited for our order.

It was a perfect day, and a perfect evening for photography. I think we'll be going back to Beal's for blueberry pie à la mode very soon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I went to the post office yesterday to return a CD to Amazon for my mother-in-law.

"Is there anything liquid, perishable, fragile, or hazardous?" asked the postal worker.

"It's opera." I said.

After a moment of careful consideration, she said, "We'll take it anyway."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Perp Caught Purple-Pawed

One evening last week, we arrived home and discovered that one of our three cats had been composing a long email to the Boston Public Library on my laptop. We couldn't identify the culprit. All three cats are equally good liars with deceptively innocent expressions.

Tonight we came home from a refreshing swim — thanks to a friend who lives in a ritzy condo building with a heated pool on Commonwealth Avenue — and discovered our male Persian, Snalbert, stepping with definite, if mysterious, intention on my laptop.

Believe it or not, he was installing a Firefox update. Through his efforts, I'm working in Firefox right now, although I usually prefer Safari because there are always too many updates to install every time I load Firefox. But my Firefox browser is up-to-date now, thanks to Snalbert. I am not making this up.

I was able to snap the perp after he left the scene, with tell-tale evidence clinging to his furry foot — a purple sticky from my desk:

As you can see, he wasn't thrilled to be caught purple-footed. But it's time he was mentioned on this blog, where I tend to obsess more about his sisters' illnesses than his feats of genius criminality. I checked my email to see if he'd sent any more correspondence to the library. If he did, he didn't use my account this time; I have no idea if he has his own Gmail account now.

Unfortunately, I'm back to blogging in Safari again, because Firefox wouldn't let me upload the photo. I can only assume that Snalbert installed some other special software to prevent me from discovering his activities.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Warning: Contains Gillyweed

Leave it to my husband to recall Professor Severus Snape as he was pouring out the bottles of nasty magnesium citrate for the first round of prep for his screening colonoscopy. The big event is tomorrow. The beverage was indeed reminiscent of Potions Class at Hogwarts. I don't need a crystal ball to predict that the rest of the evening will feel like an especially unpleasant science project for him. Because he is the project.

He said the drink tasted of gillyweed. But I think it's actually an Exploding Potion, and would therefore contain a slug besides the key ingredient, erumpent fluid. That stuff is hard to get because erumpents explode a lot. And they tend to blow up each other, too.* We were lucky to find the stuff at CVS; I thought we'd have to hunt for it in Diagon Alley. Considering all the erumpent fluid in there, it was pretty reasonably priced, too.

I didn't actually see a slug bits in the bottle, but they can do amazing things with pulverizing these days.

I hear they'll be giving him Forgetfulness Potion tomorrow. Boy, would I like some of that. I had some once, during a colonoscopy in fact, and I never forgot it. What a lovely experience that turned out to be....

Since I'm going to waiting for him at the hospital for three hours, where I won't have access to any potions, except possibly Starbucks iced mochas in the next building, I think I'll bring along a volume of Harry Potter for some decent company. I'd rather have a butterbeer, but it's a hospital.

* This information comes from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by Newt Scamander. I had to look it up; I can't memorize as well as Hermione.

The Red Sox & Me

After barely surviving the Buckner debacle of 1986, I decided that following the Red Sox was too stressful and gave them up for about 15 years. I had 15 years of not feeling my blood pressure rise when certain pitchers were up, 15 years of not yelling at the TV, 15 years of going to bed when I wanted to, no matter how many extra innings were being played in that big green place less than a mile from my apartment.

But then, early in this century, my husband got interested in the team again — because the team was interesting, for a change — and I got hooked. Again.

But I took protective measures. I try not to pay too much attention until August. There are a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of wear and tear on both players (physical) and fans (emotional) between April and July, and I find it's safer and less exhausting to remain somewhat detached. By August, you're past the traditional July slump, and you have a pretty clear idea where the team is heading, although it can still get "interesting." I still try to cultivate a philosophical attitude in August. I've been following the season closely enough to know the team's issues, but I refrain from freaking out about every bad game. (Although lately there have been plenty of games worthy of freak-outs).

August baseball is fun. The month becomes increasingly exciting, unless the team is a complete disaster, which hasn't happened in recent years. There's still hope and optimism but, during this stretch of the season, every game is much more meaningful than the games of May and June.

September baseball is exciting. Every game matters a lot, every fan is more obsessed, and all across New England, people are talking to their televisions. There are probably plenty of reasons to yell at your own.

If you're lucky enough to have any, October baseball is exhausting and often exhilarating. You're hopeful, even though you know those hopes have been dashed in more than 80 seasons. You're tired, because games run to extra innings, or we're playing the Yankees. You're scared. You're excited. And you never feel alone despite your bizarre emotional state — you're part of a whole Nation experiencing the very same mood swings. You can validate your deepest feelings and your worst fears with almost anyone, even strangers.

We're close enough to Fenway that — when the wind blows our way — we can hear the roar of the crowd seconds before a hit or homer appeared on our screen. You have no idea how helpful this is (yeah, the audio delay is only a few seconds, but as you know, in a Red Sox game, a few seconds can be an eternity) can be when a game is tense. During play-offs and Series, the crowd was so loud we could hear "Sweet Caroline."

We'll be hearing all that happy crowd noise this September and October. We hope.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Too Much Information

For no reason, I googled a pair of my favorite high school teachers the other day. They were nuns — sisters to be precise — and they both remained friends of mine for a time after I graduated and went away to college. I kept in touch until my sophomore or junior year, when I made my getaway from Catholicism and decided I couldn't possibly explain it to them. That was silly of me. I can see now that they would have at least tried to understand, and it wouldn't have changed our friendship, even if they did harbor secret hopes of my entering the convent, too. (I came pretty close, actually.)

I checked out their Order's web site, and found out that my English teacher had died the month before, in a car accident. She was a vibrant 72 and was much beloved, especially for her work leading religious retreats at the Jersey shore. I read her obituary, which told me that she hadn't changed substantially since I knew her. She'd always been an exceptionally kind, thoughtful, and spiritual woman. But she was also funny and sarcastic — irresistible traits in a nun. I remember that we were inspired by a lot of the same music and poetry. She was perpetually cheerful, always busy, interested in everything. Those qualities had only deepened through the years, according to her obituary. It was clear that her life was rich and fulfilled before it was cut off so suddenly.

Once I got over the shock of the news (and the strange timing — why had I been thinking so much about her after more than 30 years of separation?) I was sad to realize that we'd never get back in touch. It was sadder still to think of how devastated her fellow sisters, friends, and family must be. Sudden deaths are terrible losses to cope with, no matter how much faith you have.

The obituary only described her death as occurring after an auto accident. I needed to know more. Who was at fault? Had she been hit by a truck, a teenager, a drunk? Were other nuns injured? Or was she alone?

I can find almost anything on Google and, sure enough, I quickly found the story, in the cache of the Asbury Park Press. It gave her birth name (which I'd accidentally discovered in high school, much to my delight and that of a few pals) and said she'd been driving alone in the early afternoon. It was a single-car crash, still under investigation. Then it provided a few vivid and unsparing details about what had happened to her, the car, and the guardrail, and described the aftermath. It even gave the exact time she'd been pronounced dead.

I suppose this is nothing more than factual, thorough news reporting, but it floored me. I didn't need this level of information. No one needed to read those gory details besides the police. I hope I eventually forget them, although I probably won't.

I don't know why I expected to be comforted by whatever I discovered, but that was my hope. And I guess it does help me to know that no one else was hurt by her apparent lapse of consciousness. I simply could not imagine her harming anyone else in any situation, even this one. And that's all I wanted to know.

It will be a long time before I read another article about a similar tragedy without wondering how the details are affecting the bereaved. I'm sure that journalists believe there is a fine line between sensationalism and responsible reporting in such situations. But the other day, I found it. It seemed huge, and it pained me.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Let There Be Frosting!

It's been a stressful a week for the Proper Bostonian and her little family. It's been a stressful summer. Okay, OKAY. It's been a stressful YEAR.

We've got work problems and unemployment problems, health problems of both human and feline varieties (sort of under control, we hope). And, since May, we've been waiting for an unidentified group of academics from around the globe to gather secretly on an unspecified day in September, when they will discuss my husband (and another candidate), and decide whether to give him The Job of His Dreams.

And then there's the neighborhood noise, which has us longing to move. For the past 11 months, there's been racket every single weekday from construction crews. And there's an air-conditioning unit blasting away at our bedroom windows now, too. It sounds like a helicopter, and adds to the stress.

We realize we'll probably never hear the cheers from Fenway Park again, since we have to keep our windows closed even in beautiful weather, with our little window air conditioner blasting its semi-bearable, fan version of "white noise." It's true that no one's had much to cheer about in Fenway for some time. But we loved hearing those home run cheers — before the ball ever met the bat on the TV. We never missed a trick.

Despite all this, we realize that we have much for which to be grateful. Life is still pretty good, even after you realize that you've been poisoning your sick, beloved cat for over a week.  Even when you keep waking up with the bedroom spinning frantically around your pillow (vertigo). But stress can't be ignored. So we went to the North End yesterday after we stocked up at the Haymarket, and we checked out the new branch of Lyndell's Bakery, in the former Lulu's shop on Hanover Street.

My new fruit-and-veggies—based diet makes me feel healthy, virtuous, and thinner. But sometimes, I need cake. Buttery, sugary relief. Here are a few photos to entice you:

This Lyndell's is a lot smaller than the original, but they have a nice selection of individual desserts, tons of cupcakes and their famous moons, a few breakfast pastries, and a smaller sampling of cookies and other specialties. There aren't so many whole cakes or loaves of bread.

We asked for a couple of moons — the golden ones — and all-chocolate and black-and-white frosting. Back home, we found they had given us chocolate cakes instead. So we have to go back, until they get it right.

I'd rather look at a fruit tart than eat it. These look particularly gorgeous, but I'd rather have almost anything else in the case, including that pistachio number to the right. The whole point is frosting, as far as I'm concerned.

In fact, I'll take one of each of the above. Those fluffy, croissant-y things down in the lower right look just as flaky and sweet as the chocolate-almond croissants I inhaled in Paris last fall.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Yesterday, I opened my eyes at 6 am and found our entire bedroom spinning around in an annoying and rather nauseating way. For 3 hours, I tried to lie still on my pillow because turning my head an inch too much in any direction made the room spin again. My wonderful husband brought me water, tried to reassure me, and stayed home from work to keep an eye on me.

At around 9 am, the spinning stopped and I could get out of bed and go about my day, feeling only slightly dizzy and out of it. My doctor is on vacation, but her substitute promptly returned me call. "Benign positional vertigo," she said. "Do you have a cold or virus? Did you hit your head? Sometimes it just happens for no reason. It should go away on its own, but if it doesn't, you should be seen."

I went to bed with a little trepidation last night, hoping I wouldn't wake up on the Tilt-a-Whirl again. At around 9 am today, as I was luxuriously turning my head from side to side in blessed relief —the room began spinning again. I sat up straight; it stopped. I feel a little dizzier today, but not too bad. Sort of like I've had a stiff drink.

The vertigo starts if I turn my head too much, look toward the ceiling, or tilt my head back. I'm going to see my doctor on Monday, and in the meantime, Dramamine is supposed to help. I will definitely not be seeing the latest Harry Potter movie at the IMAX this weekend. Who knew that suddenly your whole world could be transformed into an amusement-park ride?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

For Cat Lovers Only: Our Own Little Big Papi

I'm embarrassed to report that I've just discovered that we've been overdosing our cat, Bunny, with steroids to treat her lymphoma. Not intentionally, of course. But it's a good thing she's not playing Major League Baseball this season or she'd be getting a 50-game suspension.

We've been giving her four injections a day: two of a steroid and two of an anti-nausea drug. I thought this was the correct regimen, but we're also giving her so many other medications that I must have made a hash out of all the instructions. As I've said (and it's obvious anyway, if you read my blog), I'm not so bright.

Since the weekend, I've been noticing that Bunny doesn't sleep much. Older cats sleep more than half the time, and Bunny was a champion sleeper to begin with. She used to sleep really hard, like she's just run a marathon and caught six mice, when in fact all she'd done is walked a few yards from her food dish and jumped on the sofa. So it was disconcerting when I'd constantly find her lying around with her eyes open, looking mildly perturbed, but mostly bored.

I talk to our vet at the Boston Cat Hospital, or the assistants there, nearly every day. I had a lot of questions about her various meds, side effects, and questions about lymphoma, and I prefer their answers to any dubious info I might find on the Internet. The staff is uniformly understanding, well-informed, and helpful, but Bunny's sleeplessness puzzled everyone. Our vet re-checked the doses and side-effects of every drug, and decided it had to be the anti-nausea medicine. So we took her off that, but nothing changed. I'd be up until the wee hours every night, watching Bunny. Bunny would be lying nearby, watching me.

I knew that animals can't survive for days without sleep, so I figured she was sneaking in some cat naps somewhere. My vet, who clearly knows me well, wondered, gently, if perhaps I was actually keeping Bunny awake with my constant watchfulness and attentions. I knew this wasn't true, but I appreciated her honesty.

I called her again today and we discussed the problem one more time. I had decided it had to be the steroid injections. It just made sense: I know from personal experience with prednisone pills (for asthma) that they give me extra energy and make me hyper-alert. She said that the steroid dose she ordered couldn't possibly be too much. She also told me that a seriously sleep-deprived cat would be psychotic, so not to worry, we weren't there yet.

Fortunately, I then asked her to give me an estimate for boarding Bunny for a little while, if we decide to go on vacation. We are both very stressed out and need a break. I woke up at 6 this morning with vertigo, for example. For 3 hours, the bedroom would spin around crazily every time I moved my head. It was horrible. I kept thinking, "What if this never goes away?" I don't know what caused it, and I'm thrilled it went away. The doctor who's subbing for my regular doctor doesn't think it's serious. Unless it comes back. She says stuff like this just happens. Yuck! I think I need a vacation.

If the hospital were to charge for administering every single daily dose, it would cost a fortune, so I wanted an estimate beforehand. So I started reciting all the medications Bunny gets, which can be as many as ten doses a day. When I mentioned the steroids, the vet stopped me. "You're giving her how much?" I checked the faint printing on the prescription label and she checked her records, and together we determined that Bunny's been getting a double dose of steroids all week. She's supposed to get one injection a day, not two. The vet doesn't think it did any damage, and the extra may even have helped the chemo drug do its work. Bunny certainly has an incredible appetite, and her chronic eye trouble has cleared up beautifully, too. But if this kept up, I'm sure we'd start to see feline 'roid rage: Bunny slamming her paw into walls, leaving little holes at shin level.

I know it's not funny to O.D. your cat, but seeing the nutty side of it all helps me deal — if not with my stupidity, but with all the emotions that accompany having a very beloved, very sick cat. I can't wait to find her sound asleep, soon.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

An Emailing Feline?

I came home tonight to find that Someone had been at my desk, reading my email (or sitting on my laptop). It was not my husband, so the usual suspects all have long, fluffy tails.

The perpetrator had opened a notice from the Boston Public Library six times. I admit that I have no idea how to open the same message multiple times on my desktop in Entourage (if you succeed, do let me know).

The Someone had also crafted a reply:

I don't speak Cat, or any other foreign language. I wish I did. Speaking Cat would be even more wonderful than speaking Italian. I don't think that my own lack of foreign-language skills should prevent my cats from communicating with others. For all I know, this is meaningful correspondence in Cat. Just because I don't know what it means doesn't mean that it doesn't mean something. (Did you get that? See? I can barely speak English.) I can't fathom my cats' activities, thoughts, or speeches 90% of the time.

I'm clearly not very bright, and my cats even have email skills I lack. So I sent the message, with an introduction:

Dear friends,

One of my cats opened an email notice from you and typed the reply below while I wasn't home. I couldn't resist hitting Send, since the cat was obviously working hard on his/her message and had plenty to say. I figured, who knows, perhaps you get email from cats all the time. So if you know what this means, please let me know.

Best regards,

(Damn, my message had two terrible typos, which I fixed here, but now I'm embarrassed.) I'll let you know if I get a response.

Monday, August 3, 2009

For Cat Lovers Only: The Bunny Report

I wrote a little over a week ago to report that our beloved cat, Bunny, has cancer. After an evening of panic, worry, and shock, we settled down and started learning from our vet how to treat it. According to her, low-grade intestinal feline lymphoma is about the best cancer diagnosis a cat can have. (For what that's worth.) When cats get chemo every other day, there's a good chance they'll go into remission and feel fine. At the cat hospital, they have a few elderly patients with this type of lymphoma who have been doing well for years. One just came out of remission at age 22. I would have no complaints if Bunny lived that long; she's about 16. Another year or two of her happy, attention-demanding company would be an amazing gift.

We are all getting used to our new routine. Twice a day, Bunny gets a thyroid pill (a tuna-flavored treat she licks from my hand) and two injections (a steroid and an anti-nausea drug). We were both so nervous when we had our shot-giving lesson, which was of the no-nonsense, "See one, do one, teach one" variety that medical students know well. Bunny wasn't thrilled with the lesson, either. But here at home, it's turning out to be easy, a million times better than trying to give her pills. We began by giving her the shots while she was busy eating. She barely flinched and didn't stop chewing. It's quick because we only need to get the tiny needles into her fur, not into her body. So it's kind of like giving an old fur coat an injection. It's apparently painless, or Bunny would complain loudly, calico diva that she is.

The steroids increase her appetite; she eats continuously through the day. Feeding her and our other fragile cat, Snicky, is a steady part-time job. Bunny eats all-meat baby food, "people tuna," Fancy Feast, Friskies packets, Whisker Lickins' treats, and 9-Lives tuna — sometimes all in one day, in small amounts, in about 10 feedings. She also eats whole slices of deli turkey (nitrate free) and lots of American cheese, which I feed to her by hand, one tiny bit at a time. I can't help imagining her as a little, furry shredder because of how quickly all those little bits disappear down her throat. I love spending this time with her, watching het enjoy her food. She's already gained back one of the three pounds she lost. The vet thinks this is a very hopeful sign, especially since it usually takes a long time for cats to regain weight. I hope she starts looking rotund, like she swallowed a volleyball again.

During the week of shot-giving, I managed to stab my thumb deeply one morning, as I was trying to put a used syringe back in its safety packaging. I probably got a minuscule dose of steroid medication; I also bled all over the floor. I should not be allowed to handle dangerous equipment before 9 am. The only lingering effect of the needle stick is that I have a near-constant urge to kill and eat a mouse.

The hard part of our new routine is the chemo, an oily liquid she must swallow every other evening. The stuff is dangerous if it gets on our skin. (It depresses bone marrow and white cell production.) We put on gloves, fill a syringe, wrap her in a towel, pry open her snapping jaws, and point the stuff down her gullet.

We've done it three times, and so far, we get most of it down her throat. But each time, she's given us a startled look afterward, as if to say, "Why are you poisoning me with that nasty goop?" She continues to eat after the chemo, but she also lies around for hours, for whole days and nights, awake and restless, shifting from one spot on the floor to another every few minutes. She's responsive, and purrs if I talk to her, but she must be uncomfortable. I hope this stage passes and her body adapts to the routine. It's still too early to tell. The antinausea shots are supposed to help, but if this keeps up, we'll need to try different kinds. I won't have her spending half her life in discomfort.

She had a bad bout of diarrhea after her second dose. It could have been from the chemo, but it could also have been one of the seven different kinds of food she gobbled down that day. I mix powdered fiber into her food now, and pray it helps. Diarrhea and a longhaired cat make a wicked combination.

As our vet suggested, I am carefully avoiding reading up on lymphoma online, where I might learn things I don't want to know. There's a lot of outdated or wrong info out there, too. When I have a question, I call the cat hospital. I call them often, and they are always patient and helpful. Okay — I caved the night she had diarrhea because I had to know what else to expect. But I'm working daily to stay positive and avoid morbid or depressing thoughts. It's not that I believe this will change matters. But cats pick up on their people's moods, so I can't mope or act upset — and risk upsetting her, too.

Next week, Bunny will have a blood test to see how her body is handling the chemo. It will take time to know if she'll go into remission. Naturally I can't bear to leave her for more than a few hours — nor can we find a friend or a professional cat sitter who can handle her drug regimen. So it looks like we'll cancel our vacation plans for mid August in Maine and postpone a weekend drive to my relatives. We'll see what develops.

Tonight, Bunny jumped up on my lap as she used to do, and settled in for a little while, purring. That's all I can ask for, these days. It's grand.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Irritable Vowel Syndrome

I'm not sure of the exact physiopathology of this newly named disease, but I'm sure it is a pain in the neck to study under a microscope. Because it's probably the result of watching too much TV.

I'm spending this lovely weekend slaving over a Web project that mentions irritable bowel syndrome a lot, but I keep typing the name of my new disease instead. So I thought I'd spread the word.

This syndrome affects a small but growing percentage of new parents. It messes with their minds, inspiring them to give their babies weird or misspelled names with the wrong vowels: Micheal. Meshelle. Susyn. Britney. "Kirsten," instead of the far more melodic and natural-sounding "Kristen." In rare cases, it can affect consonants, too. I once met an American college student, named Gillian, whose parents didn't realize that the "G" of this lovely British name is soft. As in "gaol." I bet her friends thought her name was a feminine variation on "Gilligan."

This illness can force your child to be a hapless pawn in a society that instantly recognizes, upon hearing his name, that his parents were barely in high school when he was born.

There are only experimental treatments for irritable vowel syndrome. For the best outcome, designate someone with a functioning brain to choose a name for the baby. Parents who don't have access to a brain should purchase a used Names for Your Baby book from no later than 1967 and stick to it.