Sixty-nine years ago in 1942, these American soldiers in the South Pacific were celebrating a makeshift Christmas, with a "tree" decorated with bits of surgical cotton and cigarette cartons.
About that same time, my father would have been on a ship, also somewhere in the South Pacific. He rarely spoke about his service in WWII, but I wonder if he and his shipmates would have tried to do something similar for their own Christmas celebration away from home. (My mom once pointed ut to me that, since my dad's shipboard duty was running water purification systems that involved fire and steam and long pieces of pipe and tubing, he very likely knew how to make moonshine. Not that he ever made any for us kids, to be sure....)
I don't know if any of the soldiers in the photo above died in WWII. I know that my father saw combat, and saw shipmates die. (He never talked about it. Never. But among his military mementoes were some photos of ships he had served on, and that were sunk in combat.)
Thirty-eight years later, my father would die on Christmas Day 1980. That was not a good Christmas.
Shift to today, a family get together at a cousin's. My mom and brothers, assorted cousins, with spouses and children and grandchildren.
This was a good occasion, for the most part, but with an underlying bit of melancholy for me. Seeing my family reminds me just how old we're all getting. My brothers are all grey- or white-haired now. My mother seems thinner and more frail every time I see her. And the reason why so many more than usual of the relations got together this year was because the cousin who was hosting the party had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor several months ago. (She's had surgery, and is undergoing chemo, and actually looks pretty good, considering. But still, the chance that she'll be around for next year's Christmas is a lot less than it seemed four months ago.
I don't like this getting old. It kinda sucks.
But then again, the youngest person there was a grand-niece, an oh-so-cute toddler with a head of curly hair so flamingly red it would make the entire Weasley clan gnash their teeth in envy. Someone with a long life still ahead of her. Someone to feel positive about.
Christmas Past, Christmas Present, Christmas Future. Dickens got it right.
Cute and charming and whimsical. Great fun.
BUT... in that alternate universe where Spock has a beard, the movie is titled MY FIEND TOTORO, and instead of the Catbus, you have...
Well, that will certainly give one nightmares. We need something to soothe our minds and let us sleep at night again. We need something... even cuter and more charming and more whimsical than the Catbus. But what could that be? What could that possibly be?
There's only one thing cuter and more charming and more whimsical than a Catbus. And that thing is...
I wrote about Rikkus earlier this year, in a post titled "This Cat Is Not Dead". In that post, I mentioned Rikkus had been in poor health and we'd come close to having him put to sleep. But I'd realized almost at the last minute that adjusting his thyroid medication might make him a little better again.
And it did, until just recently. He gained back about a pound and a bit of weight. Still very thin and frail, nothing like he'd been at his peak of health, when he'd been a stocky and robust cat who could hold his own against other cats. But... okay. He ate, he slept, he purred when he was petted. He seemed to be okay with his life.
About a week ago, he stopped eating. Completely. He'd sometimes been picky about which flavor of canned food was being served him. When all else failed, though, he'd always eat tuna. Not that nasty, smelly, reddish cat food tuna made from scraps and ends, but the good stuff, the Human's Tuna. He'd never turn that down.
Except now he even turned away from the good tuna. I hoped maybe he'd get his appetite back in a few days, and offered him bites of various cat food flavors several times each day. But he showed no interest, and it became clear that he wasn't just sick, he was getting ready to die.
He never seemed in distress or pain. He was just... waiting. Occasionally he'd totter over to the water bowl and get a few licks of water, but that was all. He still purred when he was petted. That pound of weight he'd regained went away, and more. He was growing visibly weaker. He still purred faintly when I stroked him about 10:00 this morning, but it was clear the end was near. When I woke up about 1:30 this afternoon, he'd finally passed away sometime in those few hours.
We gave him a few extra years by taking him in when his previous owners abandoned him and moved away. We gave him a few extra months when we adjusted his medications earlier this year. He was never a snuggler or a lap cat. But he was a good old guy. I liked him, and I'm going to miss him.
This is Curt Stubbs, from back in the way early days (the 70's) of Phoenix fandom. Curt moved to Tucson in the 80's. Besides the latest year's worth of medical problems to report, Curt had the better news that he'd been working on poetry again, and had read a piece on local radio.
He also has an awesome beard, the bastard. (Not that I'm BITTER, y'know, or OBSESSIVE, y'know, about having to stay clean-shaven for work the last few years.)
We also saw Jennifer Roberson again for the first time in a few years. Jennifer had moved to Tucson since we'd last spoke, and was multitasking, hitting both TusCon in her career as an SF/Fantasy writer, and a major dog show in her capacity as a Corgi breeder. This is Jennifer with Gabby, one of her newest Corgis:
Gabby was named after Gabrielle Giffords, being born a week after the shooting last January. In evidence that Everything Is Connected, Curt had been in hospital (a MRSA infection in his foot) the day of the shooting, and was one of the ICU patients hurriedly transferred to a regular ward to make room for some of the shooting victims.
We also saw Tom Watson, for the first time in about twenty years, at TusCon. Tom had been one of the members of a writers' workshop back in the 80's, along with Jennifer, Hilde and me, Mike Stackpole, and Liz Danforth. He's gotten back to writing again (unemployment can do that to you), which is good. (Tom was, I think, the member of the workshop who was actually making the steadiest income from writing at the time, but it was non-fiction for pet industry trade journals.)
I was struck, at TusCon, both by how many young people (late teens, early 20's) were in attendance, and by how our own generation of fans is (phrasing it politely) "greying". Curt was using a walker, Jim Webbert was using a walker, and Jan Lockett was not only using a walker but had a litany of health issues and crisises from this last year that had us amazed she was still alive. (She actually came to the convention from the rehab hospital where she's still recovering from the latest crisis.) Made Hilde and me feel we've been pretty lucky this last year. (Although the con suite had a large mirror on one wall, and I kept being taken aback when I kept seeing an Old Guy looking back at me whenever my eyes drifted in that direction.)
posted from Bloggeroid
(I usually try to avoid extra shifts, but the Security Director at Cityscape had been an easy-to-get-along-with Acting Director at my workplace for a while, and someone walking out on him at Cityscape without warning put him in a bind to fill the shift. So, hey.) (The extra pay will also make up for the day's work I lost to my concussion-based ER visit a few weeks ago.)
Cityscape is very spiffy and upscale, part of the ongoing effort to refurbish and reinvigorate downtown Phoenix, which used to have the reputation for having no life beyond office workers at all, and for being dead, dead, deader-than-dead at night and on weekends. At some of the early Phoenix SF conventions that were held at downtown hotels in the 1980's, the convention attendees pretty much had the downtown sidewalks to themselves for the weekend. Definitely more lively now than then, though a large part of this is from the sports venues built downtown (basketball arena and baseball stadium), which definitely aren't my cup of tea.
But what actually piqued my interest the most working downtown was finding that Cityscape was built directly across the street from the Luhrs Tower.
The Luhrs Tower is a fabulous Art Deco building, one of the first skyscrapers built in Phoenix, back in 1929. Here's an article on its history, and here's a photo:
Every time I've seen the Luhrs Tower, I've said to myself, "Cool. Very, very cool." At Cityscape, I saw the upper stories of the Luhrs showing themselves behind a section of the Cityscape structures. I would have liked to have taken a photo from that viewpoint, because it would have contrasted the ornate richness of the Luhrs Tower with the relative blandness of Cityscape's buildings. (They may be new, they may be spiffy and clean, but Cityscape, when you come down to it, is just another set of buildings from the "steel-&-glass" school of architecture. Meh.)
(A photo of Cityscape is included in the set of High Dynamic Range photos of downtown Phoenix buildings where I found the Luhrs photo above. Full article here.)
Unfortunately, even though I have a semi-adequate camera built into my cell phone, Cityscape is yet another place with one of those bothersome "no photography" policies. And I didn't think it would be ethical to violate that policy while I was in uniform and supposed to be enforcing it.
(I like the part of Security work where I'm doing good deeds, helping people out, solving problems. But part of the job sometimes feels like being a High School Hall Monitor, enforcing policies and rules that mostly just annoy people. But the "no photography" rule is the one that has me scratching my head in puzzlement the most. The developers spend millions and millions of dollars trying to make their properties photogenic, and then they say "no photos"? Since I usually work graveyard shifts, I don't have to do it too often, but when I have to ask someone to not take or to stop taking photos, I feel embarassed and stupid.)
When I slipped on the wet floor ("Incontinent Dog" will be the name of my next rock band*), I at first thought I'd only landed on my butt, which hurt a lot. But my head felt like it should be puffy and swollen on the left side, only it wasn't; but it felt like it was. And the lights seemed bright, a lot brighter than normal. And my thinking was foggy and slow.
All that (wrong signals from the nervous system, overly bright lights, half-speed thinking) made me think (slowly) that I might have hit my head in the fall too. But I didn't remember hitting my head, which was yet another reason to worry.
So I had one of our housemates drive me over to the Mayo Hospital ER. (We have another hospital and ER less than a mile from our house, but my primary doctor is with Mayo, plus Mayo's ER has a lot less traffic and can usually get you in and out in a few hours, whereas the closer hospital usually has a minimum wait time of about eight hours. The ten-mile difference is worth it.)
While waiting for examination and a cat scan, it was interesting to see how my mind was working. Idle thoughts, "daydreaming", were much more like actual night dreams, going off in odd little unexpected directions. The name "Esme Savage" popped into my mind at one point, for absolutely unknown reasons; it'd be a good character name for a story, though, so I might use it someday.
Cat scan came out okay, so I got diagnosed with a mild concussion and basically told to take it easy for a few days. Called off from work, slept quite a bit last night. Doing better today.
*(I'm growing increasingly frustrated by our dog's bladder problems, which have been going on for months and have had only temporary abatements with antibiotics and other medications. The latest round of antibiotics seemed to be helping again, but in the last few days... twice more just today. I'm about ready to scream. At the veterinarian, not the dog.)
I wasn't able to make it to the Occupy Phoenix event yesterday, but Flickr member Ronald Morrison posted a large photo-set at Flickr. With permission, some of his photos below:
And more, for those who want to get boozed up at Halloween. For beer enthusiasts, Reaper Ale puts out an entire line of rigorously brewed beers:
And in the hard liquor line, there's always this good old standby:
I've always felt that Halloween should be a scary holiday. Apparently there are those who think "gross" is close enough:
I say no.
(Googling, I find that the Flix Candy company has actually been offering the "Box of Boogers" as a Halloween offering for several years. At least they've changed the packaging to remove the word "Fresh!")
From My Madeleine, Molly Birnbaum's excellent food-and-writing blog:
I thought about this a lot last weekend. Because as I baked my first wedding cake, I was in the middle of writing my book. I was buried in outlines and research; I had no idea where it would go. Back then, it was all about the creativity. It was all about forging new paths ahead. I was living in a miniscule studio in Brooklyn, had a boyfriend fighting a war in Afghanistan, and was using 14 pounds of almond paste to create a wedding cake in my mother’s kitchen with nothing but a couple recipes and a half-baked plan. If I could make and transport that cake, then of course I could finish my book. It was all about magical thinking. What surprised me is that it worked.(I'm still having trouble getting links in Blogger to work right now. URL for the full piece: http://mollysmadeleine.blogspot.com/2011/08/wedding-cake-ii.html )
(from a September 2010 balloon festival in Boise, Idaho. Found via one of those Drunkard's-Walk searches on Flickr and Google Images at http://www.boisedailyphoto.com/2010/09/fly-me-to-moon.html , which won't link for some reason. Photo by Debbie Courson Smith. )
The sight of all those identical cubicles raises my hackles and crottles my greeps. It's cookie-cutter, assembly-line workspaces, interchangeable, and my impression is that it's all meant for cookie-cutter employees, also interchangeable. That, to me, is Hell. And so a work cubicle is a "hellbox".
It turns out, though, that "hellbox" already exists as a word. It's from the printing profession, back when set type was taken out of the printing forms and tossed into a box, which some junior apprentice was damned to sort back into each letter's individual slot in the typecases. It's also used in a more general sense, of a container filled with a miscellany of small items difficult to sort apart.
But I like my own use of the word, to mean an office work cubicle, particularly when it's one of a large number of identical cubicles. So I'm tossing it out there into the wilds of the Internet, where one hopes kind-hearted strangers will pick it up and give it a good home.
(How large is "a large number"? The hellishness of cubicles seems to increase, at least in my mind, the larger the number of cubicles grouped together. Some of the smaller companies, in the other office buildings, have smaller groups of cubicles, and those don't particularly bother me. Four cubicles together, no problem. Eight, well, okay. Twelve, that's starting to push my buttons. But forty or fifty or sixty in a group, like in that new HQ? Ewwwww......)
But the best show on SyFy isn't on TV. It's a web series called THE MERCURY MEN, 10 short episodes that evoke not only the feel of old movie cliffhangers, but show a strong influence by the original black-&amwhite episodes of THE OUTER LIMITS from the 1960's. Not just in the cinematography and special effects, but in the feeling of paranoia and entrapment that was so common in those old TOL episodes.
Official website, with links to episodes, here.
DC Comics announced a few months ago that they would be relaunching their comics line, with new #1 issues of 52 different titles. The stated purpose of this was to give a new generation of readers a jumping on point to start reading comics.
But this also meant that a bunch of the old titles were suddenly cancelled in mid-storylines. That hasn't made the old generation of readers happy. The last conversation I had with David, the owner of the comics shop I shopped at, I said, "This could just as easily be a jumping off point for the current readers." He told me that a number of his customers had already cancelled their standing orders for DC titles.
Another reason for DC's relaunch was to start promoting increased digital sales of comics, rather than the old-fashioned paper-and-ink versions. Not good news for comics shops owners.
David's shop had already been hanging on by its fingertips, with a lot of customers cutting back or stopping completely in the wake of the general economy's weakening in the last several years. When you cut back on non-essential spending, things like books or movies or comics are among the first to be cut. He'd come close to losing the shop about a year before, only staying open when he'd been able to renegotiate the shop's lease at the last minute.
So I wasn't too surprised when I went back a few weeks later to find the store's lights out, the doors locked, and a notice from the landlord taped to the door. (Man, that's gotta hurt for David. He's started working for the store's original owners as a teenager, then bought the store from them about ten years ago. Hopefully nearly twenty years of retail experience will let him find another source of income soon.)
So there I was, suddenly cut off from my usual source of comics. (There are other comics shops, but all considerably farther away and in the wrong direction from my usual travel patterns; David's shop was less than a mile away.) What to do?
What I've done is... nothing.
I have to admit that I've thought for a long time that the cost-to-benefit ratio of buying comics is a negative one. I can buy a comic that costs $3 or (usually) more, and get ten or fifteen minutes reading pleasure from it. Or I can buy a paperback novel for about $8 and get hours of reading from it. (When I bought my very first comics, as a kid, they were still twelve cents apiece; they've increased in cost 25-fold. My first paperbacks, a couple of years later, averaged sixty cents; they've only risen 12 to 13-fold since then.)(Yes, I'm old.) I've kept up the habit of buying occasional comics mostly from... habit.
So I've gone cold turkey on comics. So far I haven't missed many of the titles I was following all that much. And I'm saving about $40 to $50 a month in expenses.
(I also wanted to note that the relaunch of Superman reportedly involves some changes to his costume; it's now going to be a type of "Kryptonian battle armor". Say what? I say, "Bullshit!" to that. Everyone knows -- KNOWS -- that Supe's costume was made by Ma Kent unravelling the blankets that swaddled Kal-El inside that rocket and weaving the uniform from those threads. These are immutable truths about Superman: He can fly. He has super-strength. He's invulnerable. And his mother dresses him funny.)
Keeping in mind that Scalzi is a long-time film buff & critic, the changes he's wrought from the original novel seem very much to be changes that would be made for a film adaptation of Piper's novel: The protagonist is younger, with a romantic sub-plot. His version of Jack Holloway is also a bit of a scoundrel, whose motivations aren't always noble. Scalzi's narrative flow is faster, with leaner dialogue.
(Skimming back thru the original LITTLE FUZZY, I noticed that there's a lot of talking in Piper's book, a lot of discussion of what sapience is and how it might be detected.)
Significant parts of both books take place in courtrooms. I think Piper's original wins out here; his presentation of courtroom wrangling is larger and messier than Scalzi's; it's more complicated, with more factors and players involved. In short, more realistic.
One of the elements in LITLE FUZZY was the veradicator, a lie-detector with 100% accuracy, used in courtroom testimony. Much as I love the idea of a veradicator (I want one, dammit!), Piper's machine only give a postiive or negative response; there's no gray areas of half-truths or delusional thinking allowed to it. That was never realistic (dammit! I still want one), and Scalzi leaves the veradicator out of his version. A good change, I'm inclined to think, on Scalzi's part.
[spoilers below the break...]
Wide traffic paths and doors, and things like a roll-in shower stall, that's accessible. Thanks, Hilton!
posted from Bloggeroid
Hilde was an active and important figure in the early days of Phoenix SF fandom, from the early 1970's on. We'll both be on a fanhistory panel, along with Mahala Sweebe and possibly others, to discuss those early days. (The agony and the ectasy! The Sturm and the Drang! The angst and the texture!) Plus other panels about books, reading, H. Beam Piper and other topics.
(This will be the first time I've been on programming at a local convention for about a decade. I used to be a fairly frequent participant, but the person who planned most of the programming before that got burnt out and was replaced by someone new. When the new person took over, my name apparently got dropped from the list of local writers and knowledgable fans who tended to be invited onto programming. And I just never got around to beating the drum to get back on that list.)
I also finally got around to rebuilding the list of blogs I read regularly. The old list got deleted in the changeover to New Blogger a while back, and it's only now I've put it back together.
On that blog list, I particularly recommend D. Gary Grady's Fusion-Powered Mediocrity. I've enjoyed Gary's writing for years in a private apa (one of those things that still use that paper stuff), but it's only recently he's started an online blog. He does both serious and funny with non-mediocrity.
Hi there! This isn't actually a comment (so you can delete it, since I'll be putting my email address in it, please) but this is the only way I can think to contact you. Oh, the wonders of the internet.
I'm trying to find a short story of yours -- The Skycastle -- which I read many, many, many years ago in the first issue of MZB's Fantasy when it came out, and still remember to this day. Of course you can't find back-issues of the magazine anymore and, really, I don't remember any of the other stories in it. But your story I remember, and must have reread at least a hundred times.
I suppose I should say "thank you" while I'm at it...!
Anyway, I've long since lost the magazine, of course, but I was reminded of the story tonight and found myself wondering if it ever made its way into an anthology? Or, hell, if not: have you got a copy you'd be willing to email me? I'd be happy to paypal you something for it...!
And, well, if not: at least 23 years on I can finally say "hey, that was a pretty good story you wrote.
Thanks so much,
Thanks! I don't hear from fans of my old stories all that often anymore. (Real life has kept me from writing much, and the last new story I had published was in 2006.) Glad you enjoyed it, and still remember it.
No, "The Skycastle" has never been anthologized. I was a bit disappointed when DAW Books published a BEST OF MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY'S FANTASY MAGAZINE collection, and my story wasn't included.
I've been thinking of making some of those old stories accessible again, either by e-pubbing, POD, or just posting online. But that will probably (real life...) take a while. (I'd have to dig out the old disks, then an old disk drive, then convert them to a different wordprocessor... it would take a while.)
If you don't mind sending a physical or PO Box address, the quickest way to get the story would be for me to xerox it from my old copy of the magazine and send it to you by mail. (Mail? In an envelope? How quaint.)
If you liked "The Skycastle", you'd probably also like "Death and the Ugly Woman", published in SWORD AND SORCERESS #4, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW Books, 1987. That's the story of mine that's gotten the most fan reaction, including a movie option by a small (really small) production company. (But it's never been reprinted, either. I scratch my head in puzzlement.)
Your comment to my blog ended up in the moderation queue, so your email address never went public. I'll go ahead and delete it.
-- Bruce Arthurs
So, yes, I really have been thinking of making my old stories available again. Certainly wouldn't hurt.
(I've also been thinking of self-publishing some of my unpublished fiction. Some of those old unpublished pieces I re-read nowadays and cringe, but there are some that I still think are pretty damn good, but just never sold for some reason. I'm particularly thinking of a 29,000 word novella titled "Junker Tommy", whose major fault seems to be an awkward length and a lack of markets for stories of that length.)
Here's an image of George Barr's cover for that first issue of MZBFM, illustrating "The Skycastle":
This is a shame. It will mean fewer and fewer places where bookreaders can go in and actually see and handle and browse thru thousands and thousands of titles, all of them written by James Patterson.
- - - - -
Surely it was only a coincidence, that Borders' announcement came only a few days after I had -- abandoning years of standing firm on noble principles and long-ingrained habit -- installed an eReader app on my cell phone. I start reading one friggin' digital book, and suddenly a billion-dollar chain of brick-and-mortar bookstores falls into ruin, putting thousands of people on the unemployment line and sending shock waves thru the entire publishing industry. I'm sorry; this was not one of the mutant superpowers I've always wanted to see manifest. It's like dreaming of being Superman and waking up to find you're actually Lex Luthor.
I suppose I can share the blame with George R.R. Martin, since it was one of his books I loaded onto my cell phone. No, not A Dance With Dragons. The previous book, A Feast For Crows. Since Feast and Dance were essentially supposed to be two halves of one big book, I had thought to wait until Dance was published before reading both of them one after another. Five years later, with a copy of Dance finally in hand, I'm not sure where, or how deeply buried, the hardcover copy of Feast I bought back then has gotten to in the house.
So, I loaded Overdrive Media Console into my Droid, and checked out a copy of A Feast For Crows from the Greater Phoenix Digital Library. (GPDL is a central eBook source for the Phoenix library system and the library systems in the surrounding towns and suburbs.)
Getting the software installed and signing up for GPDL access was pretty smooth and straightforward. And I'm impressed with how the book presents on my Droid's screen. The text is crisp and clear (and adjustable in size), moving around in the book is pretty easy, and it's certainly easier to carry around my cell phone (which I do all the time anyway) than a thick hardcover.
It does suck up quite a bit of battery power, primarily because it's in use for longer periods than most of the other phone apps I use on the Droid. I may have to start remembering to use the phone's car charger when I'm driving around town.
This may be the start of a beautiful friendship. Or a horrible addiction. (Omigod, the first one really WAS free!)
- - - - -
In case anyone think's I'm snarking on James Patterson up above... well, yeh, you're right. I read the first Alex Cross mystery, Along Came A Spider, when it first came out. My reaction was "Meh," and I've never bothered to read any of his other books. So I'm always a little surprised to see how many books he's published since then, and how well they sell.
The puzzling thing is that there's no "buzz", insofar as I've encountered, about his books. People can stand around the proverbial water cooler and talk about a Stephen King book, or a Dan Brown book, or a Stephanie Meyer book. They talk about the plot, and the characters, for those writers' books. But I've never heard a conversation like that about any of James Patterson's books. What I keep hearing about Patterson is that "He's a page-turner" and, repeatedly, "His chapters are short." So I guess Patterson is writing for the short-attention-span crowd, and it's turned out to be a pretty damned big crowd.
- - - - -
(Photo credit for the empty bookshelves goes to the Smithsonian Institution, via Flick Commons.)
This is Rikkus. He's the "foreclosure cat" we rescued a few years ago, when his owners moved away and left him behind. We found out he had a microchip, but it was to the Seattle shelter he'd been adopted from in 1998, and his owners nevr updated the chip's records from that shelter address. We think he might have originally belonged to an older person who passed away, and while the younger generation took him in initially, when they encountered their own troubles Rikkus became an option, not an obligation.
We don't know what his original name was. "Rikkus" is the word for "lion" in the invented language our housemate Tabbi uses for her online persona and writing. He was informally known as "Stalker Cat", because when our friend and back fence neighbor Anne was alive, he'd come up to the patio door or bedroom window ledge and get Anne's cats Aliera and Sethra all flustered and upset. (We took in Aliera and Sethra when Anne died, so now they're actually all living in the same house. They've never been friendly, but they don't fight or throw hissy-fits.)
Rikkus was a big ol' guy, fairly stocky under long black fur. When he was still a street cat, he pretty much owned the street. But about a year ago, he started losing weight, fairly drastically, and getting stiff and slow-moving. Blood tests showed hyperthyroidism, so he's been on meds for that for about a half year.
But he's continued to decline, eating poorly and getting gaunt. Recent developments included pulling out chunks of fur, treating the litter box as an option, and throwing up a lot of what he reluctantly ate. He was being a pretty miserable kitty.
So we'd been thinking that it might be time to have Rikkus put to sleep, and made an appointment for earlier this morning to have it done.
Rikkus has never been an enthusiastic pill-taker, to put it mildly, and I didn't see any overwhelming need to continue his meds for the last few days before his final appointment. So I stopped giving him the hyperthyroidism meds.
And... he began to improve. He started eating again (and in decent amounts) and keeping it down, he seems to have stopped pulling out fur, and he's been using the litter box again. He also seems more alert and engaged.
This made me wonder if the meds he'd been taking might actually have been part of the problem. When I checked online for hypothroidism (underactive thyroid), the list of symptoms were almost a complete match for what Rikkus had been showing.
So it seems possible that he's been getting too high a dose of the hyperthyroidism meds. I consulted the vet, and we'll try cutting back on that dosage and see how he does. (Also start giving him something to try and help with his stiff and creaky old joints.)
I'm frankly relieved to be able to give him a reprieve. Losing Tia and Gremlin -- bam! bam! -- one after the other was hard enough. I really don't want Undulant Fever to be "All dead cats, all the time." (I have visions of walking down the street and having people shouting "It's that guy with the Dead Cat Blog! QUICK! HIDE THE KITTENS!")
Which was uncertain. X-rays showed no actual blockage in the air way, and the lungs looked pretty clear. He'd been placed in an oxygen cage, and had recovered dramatically, regaining consciousness and alertness. Throughout the night, the oxygen ration was stepped down to normal levels, and the vet thought Gremlin able to go home Sunday morning, to be followed up on by his regular veterinarian on Monday.
Except Sunday night was a repeat of Saturday night, but catching the early choking signs soon enough to get Gremlin back to the Emergency Clinic and the oxygen cage while still conscious. An internal medicine specialist performed an ultrasound and endoscopy the next morning, and drew some fluid from the lung for further testing. The fluid in the lung was not a good sign, and Gremlin was started on an antibiotic and bronchodilator while the fluid samples were being tested. This time Gremlin was kept until Wednesday morning, when he again seemed to be okay without oxygen.
At least until late Thursday night/early Friday morning, when he went into the scary HEY!-CHOKING-TO-DEATH-HERE! behavior for a third time. This time I was at work, and it was James who got to make the mad dash to the Emergency Clinic. (Thank you, James.)
Back to the oxygen cage. By this point, we were waiting for the final test results from the fluid samples. The fluid and mucuous in Gremlin's lung did NOT appear to be coming from a bacterial infection, we knew by this point. One of the alternate possibilities raised by the internist was Valley Fever, and it was that test we were waiting for the results on.
In the meantime, Gremlin became a full-time occupant of the oxygen cage, and despite medication, seemed to slowly be getting worse. When the door would be opened for cleaning or feeding or visits, and regular air replaced the oxygen-rich environment, he'd start showing beginning signs of distress within a few minutes. He never got weaned back to regular air this time. (Part of this may have been because after three episodes of choking and agonal gasping and straining to breath, the internal stress and strain he'd gone through would have been like being in a bad fistfight with your own insides.) The fluid in his lungs did not improve under the antibiotic treatment.
The Valley Fever test came back negative. At this point, the internist thought there were two possibilities: Gremlin might have aspirated something foreign into his lung, or there might be cancer. In either case, surgery to remove the affected part of the lung would be the next step.
And that was when Hilde and I had to make a decision. I thought it was most likely the cancer diagnosis was the correct one. (The first visit's emergency vet had raised cancer as a possibility.) So even if Gremlin survived the lung surgery and rallied back to health, there was a possibility the cancer had metatasized elsewhere in the body and the surgery would only be a delaying tactic, not a cure.
And there was another factor, the factor no one likes to think about. Gremlin's medical bills had already cost nearly $8,000. Surgery and aftercare would be at least another $5,000. We would have maxed out our primary credit card and had to move to using a second one, something I'd never had to do before. And there was a significant possibility that all those extra efforts and expenses wouldn't save Gremlin, or save him only temporarily.
That's something you don't want to think about. It's something you don't want to have to think about. Thinking about it gives you feelings of guilt, of betraying your beloved pet. You don't want to be "reasonable". You don't want to be "pragmatic". You want the financial costs to be irrelevant, to not be a factor in your decisions. But there's a point when those costs become so overwhelming that they have to become a factor.
So we made the decision, to stop Gremlin's treatment and have him put to sleep. This was tough, and made tougher because, just so long as he stayed in that oxygen cage, he didn't seem sick. He was active, and alert, and annoyed that he was being kept in a strange place and in a cage. (That was another factor to consider: Even if we could afford to continue paying hundreds of dollars a day to keep him in that oxygen cage, how did it feel to Gremlin to go from having a territory of several thousand square feet to being restricted to one of less than a square yard?
We were put into one of the examination rooms, where the doctor brought Gremlin to us a few minutes later. We gave him petting and chin-critches and held him for a little while, until he began to show early signs of having to work at drawing breath. I held Gremlin in my arms while the doctor put the syringe's contents into the injection port in Gremlin's front leg, and then he was gone.
We had Gremlin cremated, and the box with his ashes is on top of the A/V cabinet in our family room. We've always buried our pets before, but it's gotten harder to go through that again, especially after burying Tia just a month or so before Gremlin's illness. (And it's probably not going to be too much longer before Rikkus, the frail old man of our cat herd, passes on.)
I'm not a believer in Heaven or Hell for humans, but I'd like to think there's a Heaven for cats, where the food and water dishes fill themselves, where you can actually catch that damned red dot, and where there's always a sunbeam to sleep in.
More posts to come, eventually. Probably subjects: Dieting, job-hunting (I'm still employed, but trying to find something/somewhere else), and Those Darn Gorillas!
So I hear this Rapture thing is supposed to be happening tomorrow, when God lets down the velvet rope and the celestial doormen let the people on their list into Heaven, leaving the rest of us standing out on a cold sidewalk, in the rain, with dogshit on our shoes. Or something like that.
But that's okay, because the people who believe in the Rapture most strongly seem like people I really wouldn't enjoy spending time with. Apparently, God loves suck-ups.
Oh, wait a minute, though! Aren't you also supposed to qualify for Rapturing if you're a really really really nice person?
Well, I've always tried to be a nice person. Or, at least, not-an-asshole. I don't think the super-nice people get a choice when the Rapture happens, though. It's just *snatch*, *whoosh*, and there you are in Heaven, surrounded by crowds of annoying people, forever. What if I've been just nice enough in my life that God includes me on his to-be-Raptured list? I don't think I really want that, thanks.
I'm not even sure Heaven has cable. (I mean, hey, Game of Thrones is only halfway thru its first season!)
I think I need to run out and steal some candy from a baby or something. I need to pile up some Sin Points pronto.
I've referred to my sleep patterns as a "train wreck" before, but it's gotten worse the last few months. There are a number of reasons for this.
I don't sleep a continuous eight-hour stretch, but in scattered shorter sections, which only rarely add up to that recommended eight.
I can't really blame too much of this on working graveyard shifts, midnight to 8:00 AM, five nights a week. Lots of people work graveyard, and arrange their lives to where they sleep soundly during the day.
But that daytime period is also standard business hours for most people, and sometimes you have to be up and awake to take care of business. Doctor's appointments, phone calls, shopping, etc. So I can usually depend on staying up after getting home from work, or having to get up after a few hours sleep, at least two or three days out of those five.
There are also my other jobs, beside the one that actually pays. As Hilde's become progressively more disabled over the years, I've had to take on more and more of her care-giving, of being her hands and feet. That usually runs about five to six hours per day, and those are hours that really can't be cut back on. (I love my wife like crazy, but I hate her disease.)
(We have Tabbi living with us, who takes care of Hilde while I'm at work, but considering the pittance we pay her -- a babysitter would get paid more -- I'd feel guilty asking her to take on more work.)
In amongst all that, my third job is struggling to get things done, to keep up with paperwork and housekeeping, with shopping and yardwork. And the only category where it seems I can cut back on to make time for everything is by cutting back on sleep. Which leaves me in a walking fog half the time I'm up, which means I don't get as much done in that waking time as I would if properly rested, which means I end up trying to stay awake longer to try and get enough done, which means... well, just Google "diminishing returns".
(Which all makes writing my fourth job, at best. I suppose for a fourth job, I've done pretty well, but it help explains why I haven't finished or sold a story for over four years.)
A few weeks ago, I took a treadmill stress test. This happened to be at the end of a workweek, so I'd only had about 20 hours sleep the previous five days. (That was less than usual, but not by much.) Have you ever ("Keep your eyes open, Mr. Arthurs!") started to fall asleep ("Keep your eyes open!") on a treadmill? That kinda goes beyond "walking fog" into "situational narcolepsy".
(You might wonder, how do I ever manage to drive a car without falling asleep at the wheel? Because my doctor's aware of my sleep pattern, or lack of same, and prescribes Provigil, an anti-drowsy drug that turns off the "sleepy" switch in your brain for a few hours. I try to take it at times when I'll be able to drop into bed after it wears off, so it doesn't keep me awake in bed.)
In all, I'm kinda feeling like there are no good options to improve this situation. I'd like to be able to ditch the outside job, but we still need that to stay in a positive cash-flow status. I can't cut back on the time spent with Hilde, or on the time spent handling the day to day tasks of living; I barely keep up as it is... and far too often I'm not keeping up.
Except for sleep, the only place where I could cut back is the time I spend on the Internet... and I'm reluctant to do that as well. I browse about a half-dozen blogs daily, and about another dozen less frequently; I check my email; I check my bank account and pay most of my bills online. I try to keep my online time to 90 minutes or less daily (not always successfully, I admit). But if I gave up those social aspects of being online, I'd feel like there wasn't much of me left. Gaining extra time for not-fun stuff isn't a trade-off I want to make.
I'm having a sleep study done at the end of this week, but I don't really expect too much out of it. I had one done about five years ago, which came back with completely normal results. Probably because having that sleep lab was one of the rare times when I was able to get an uninterrupted eight hours of sleep. If they really want to test my typical sleep period, they'd wake me up a few hours in, have me perform a variety of tasks for a few hours, then have me get back into bed and try to go back to sleep again.
(That's another thing: Sometimes I can be bone-tired, barely staying on my feet, but when I get back into bed, sometimes I lay there for hours before I actually get back to sleep. This is incredibly frustrating, to say the least.)
- - - - -
Update, May 14th: Somewhat to my surprise, the results from my night all wired up at the sleep lab were... informative.
I originally went to the sleep lab, not because of my broken sleep patterns and overall lack of sleep, but because there had been scattered occasions when, first laying down to go to sleep, I would suddenly be unable to take in a breath. It was as if the autonomic breathing impulses were suddenly turned off. Kinda alarming. But when I'd react by rolling over from my back to my side, I could suddenly breathe again. This wasn't common enough to be considered an emergency -- it happened about five or six times over about a two-month period -- but often enough to be of concern. I described it to my regular doctor as "It's kinda like what sleep apnea is supposed to be like, only without the sleeping part."
To make sure I didn't have a tumor or growth starting in my throat, my doctor first sent me to an ENT specialist , where I got to watch a scope-on-a-rope send back images from my sinuses down to the top of my esophagus, with normal results. After that came the appointment with the sleep lab.
This time the results were not "completely normal". The results showed I was having the scattered stops in breathing during my sleep as well. Overall, I was diagnosed as having mild sleep apnea; however, whenever I was on my back that night, instead of on my side, the number of incidents-per-hour jumped, from about half-a-dozen to over forty.
The recommendation was for me to start using one of those CPAP machines while sleeping, where a breathing mask over your face keeps a continuoous pressure in your airway, preventing it from closing during an apnea incident.
However, the data shows that a lot of people prescribed CPAP machines have trouble using them regularly, or stop using them after a few months. So I'm trying "Positional Therapy" first, arranging things where one spends sleep on their side, instead of on their back. The basic methods are to either block oneself in, or to wear a snug t-shirt that has tennis balls or other obstructions sewn into pockets along the spine. One keeps you on your side, the other wakes you up if you roll onto your back.
Since getting the results, I've been sleeping with Big Kitty, an extra-large stuffed animal which has doubled as a body pillow in the past, behind my back at night. (I've also bought a "Sidesleeper" pillow, shaped with an extension along the back, but it just arrived yesterday and I haven't used it enough to say how well it works yet.) Staying on my side doesn't solve everything, but there does seem to be some improvement, waking up feeling better rested and with a bit more energy during the day.
It would probably also help to lose those thirty excess pounds I've picked up over the last five or six years. Getting back to exercising regularly would help with that, and it would really help if I stopped snacking and "grazing" so much. (But it's hard to resist the siren call of the Doritos, or the "yip-yip-yip!" of the Cheez-It herds as they roll across the plains.)
|Tia, in a rare public moment|
We came back from spending Saturday at LepreCon, one of the local conventions, and were starting to get ready for bed. Part of the checklist for that is giving some of our cats a few kitty treats. Which is when we realized that Tia, our older Ragdoll mix, not only hadn't come out for her treats, but hadn't come out the night before as well, and possibly longer.
Tia (short for Tiamet) has always been our "ghost cat", very much a solitaire who didn't interact much with the other cats and who was extremely shy about people in general and especially when there were strangers in the house. We've had friends who've visited dozens of times, over years, who would finally get a glimpse of Tia and ask, "Oh, did you get a new cat?" Until the last few years, when she got a little more outgoing, she'd spend almost all of her time in one room, our bedroom. So it wasn't at all unusual -- in fact, the default -- to not see Tia. When we realized she hadn't been seen at all for several days, our fear was that she might have slipped out the back screen door -- we've had people going back and forth to the backyard more often than usual the last few days -- even though that would have been extremely unusual for her. (Except for watching an occasional episode of Bird TV, she showed little interest in the outdoors.)
But we found her under our bed. Our mattress is on a multi-drawer pedestal, which most of the time means the bed is effctively a solid block. But if you get down on the floor and wiggle and shimmy around like an urban spelunker/contortionist, there's a crawlspace under the headboard (the headboard is a bookshelf attached to the top rim of the bed itself; we are so predictable) that leads to an area under the bed between the drawers on each side. A quiet, private place.
Tabbi, who's younger and far more limber than me, was able to bring Tia out. Tia was very dehydrated, thin, and obviously in distress.
This was a shock, because while Tia is actually our oldest cat, adopted from a rescue organization in 1997, she's always been exceptionally healthy. Our next oldest, Rikkus, the "foreclosure cat" we rescued after his owners abandoned him a few years ago, was born in 1998 and has become a frail, slow-moving old man who'll sometimes sit on the floor and stare at you until you pick him up and put him in the high spot he wants to go. Tia...? Except for routine vaccinations and the bad case of ringworm she had when we adopted her, I don't think Tia has ever had to have a vet visit in her entire fourteen years. It was only a couple of weeks ago she was trying to catch a laser pointer's red dot.
This happened past midnight on a weekend. So I drove her to the closest Emergency Animal Clinic, rather than waiting a day and a half for our regular vet's office to be open. Findings: Besides the dehydration, Tia had an irregular heartbeat, her blood oxygen was poor, and she was very, very anemic. The doctor's prognosis was pessimistic; aggressive treatment might bring some improvement, but even with that, the odds of Tia dying before Monday morning were probably over 50%.
And that was just to treat the current crisis; it didn't address the original, unknown, cause of Tia's sudden downslide.
(Speculation: Tia might have had a slow-growing tumor that didn't produce obvious symptoms until it caused internal bleeding, leading to the severe anemia leading to the heart problems leading to all the rest.)
It was a hard decision. But after talking with Hilde on the phone, we finally decided euthanasia was the best choice. The vet had already installed an injection port during the critical care after Tia first arrived at the clinic, so there wasn't the ignominy of a final needlestick. I petted her while the injection went in, and she went quietly and quickly (and with, I suspect, relief).
Tabbi and James, one of our other housemates, dug a hole in the side yard and buried Tia for us. We've lived in this house for over 25 years, so there are about another four or five cats buried over there from years past. It doesn't get any easier.
I said that Tia didn't interact often with the other cats. Oddly, though, she seemed to love our Welsh Cardigan Corgi, Madame Mim. When Mim would be laying on the floor in the bedroom, Tia would sometimes come up and start washing Mim's face and ears, and doing the head-butt PURR-PURR-PURR thing. ("Tia," I sometimes told her, "you are a traitor to your own species.") Mim, to her credit, would lay there and take the washing and loving without objection, albeit always with a horribly embarassed expression on her face.
The quality, or lack of, isn't particularly relevant to the, umm, earworminess of a particular piece of music. Recent case in point: Rebecca Black's "Friday", which (so I've heard) is pretty unforgettable, no matter how desperate you are to do so.
But sometimes the earworm can come from a good piece of music.
Hilde and I, when there's nothing we want to watch on tv, sometimes turn the channel to one of the "Golden Oldies" music channels as background noise. The 1960's had a lot of suckitude, but it had a lot of great music.
But even great music, after the third or fourth day of having it play in the back of your head, gets a little... wearying.
They (the ubiquitous "They") say the best way to get rid of an earworm is to share it with someone else. So:
The main reason "Have I The Right" makes such a strong earworm is the especially strong beat. In the original recording, besides Honey Lantree's drumming (one of the few female drummers in rock), the rest of the band was foot-stomping on wooden stairs, and the tambourine was being beaten, not by the player's hand, but directly onto the microphone. The resulting triple-threat THUMPA-THUMPA-THUMPA gets right into one's midbrain; your heartrate speeds up and adrenaline starts to flow. This is a great piece of "stay-awake" music.
A new twist to this latest flu, mega-cold, or whatever it is, is that the associated fever and inflammation seems to have set off a reoccurrence of the hip bursitis I had about five years ago, on top of all the other symptoms. Not fun. Not fun at all. I don't like to take narcotic pain-killers except as a last resort; for this, I ended up taking T-3's (Tylenol with codeine).
I happened to have an appointment with an ENT doctor on Friday, for unrelated reasons, but he prescribed antibiotics for the crud I was having, and there's been vast improvement since then. I'll probably be back at work tonight.
On Thursday I got the news that Tom McGril, my stepdad (he and my mother had been together for about ten years), had died. Unlike the death of Hilde's brother Greg, this wasn't unexpected; Tom had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a six month prognosis about five-and-a-half months ago. Still, hard to hear, especially coming on top of Greg's death last week.
Tom and Mom met when Tom was recovering from hip surgery, and hired Mom (she was living in the same trailer park community) as a caregiver until he (literally) got back on his feet. Things developed, they moved in together, and eventually got married.
Tom was a good guy, who reminded me a lot of my father (who passed away in 1980) and made life better for Mom while they were together. He was also an accomplished painter, who was still giving classes when Mom met him. (He'd stopped painting in recent years, having lost enough fine control to feel he could continue. That was a loss.)
I'm of mixed mind about Tom's death from cancer. Yes, it gave time to make some preparations and planning, but the last couple of months of Tom's life varied from Pretty Bad to Really, Really Bad. Greg's death, shocking and unexpected as it was to his family and friends, at least meant that Greg went quickly and relatively painlessly. (And it also, speaking pragmatically, saved the expense of a long drawn-out illness. Tom's care and treatment over the last months means Mom is left with little in the way of savings anymore.)
(I also want to give a shout-out to my brother Denny and his wife Debbie - especially Debbie - for extraordinary expenditures of time and energy caring for, arranging care for, transporting to medical appointments, etc, for both Tom and my Mom these last months.)
Hilde's brother, my brother-in-law, Greg Hildebrand, died unexpectedly last night.
Apparent cause was a heart attack. He'd complained of aches in his shoulders and back, and went to bed early, about 9:00. When his wife Deb checked on him about a half-hour later, he was non-responsive. She called 911, and he went into full cardiac arrest in the ambulance and couldn't be revived.
Totally unexpected. There's no family history of cardiac problems; the Hildebrands almost invariably die of various abdominal cancers, and at a considerably older age. (He was 57.) Greg had been losing weight and reducing his blood pressure in recent months, so to all appearances he was getting fitter.
We'd been over to Greg & Deb's Friday night, and there were no signs of what would happen 24 hours later.
Hilde's being hit pretty hard by this. Greg was her only sibling, and he was seven years younger than her; she'd more or less helped raise Greg while her mother worked to support the family. With all of Hilde's health problems, she never expected to outlive her brother.
Besides Deb, his wife, he leaves behind his two daughters, Lea and Gwen, from his first marriage, and a lot of friends.
He was a pretty good guy. (If I tried to say he was a saint, he'd have guffawed.) He was always there for family and friends. Our politics tended to be pretty far apart a lot of the time, but he was always good-natured about it. I'm going to miss him.
(Just for the record, I should point out that Hilde's brother, Greg Hildebrand, should not be confused with the fantasy artist Greg Hildebrandt. It's happened a time or two.)