Blog: Family & Friends

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Sad tidings

I have just learned that Eftychia (Daphne) has passed unexpectedly, way too soon.

I met Daphne at an SF con, probably Darkover, about 35 years ago. She was already a capable musician then and was an outstanding one later in Homespun Ceilidh Band. We enjoyed playing together for some balls at cons, and she was often on the Pennsic bandstand when I was more active there. She encouraged others, drew shy musicians in, and had a welcoming smile. In all of these places, it was obvious that making music was her happy place. I know she struggled with chronic pain, but when she was making music, that all seemed to fade away.

I haven't seen her since before the pandemic, alas. I had been looking forward to catching up with her at Pennsic this year. I am reminded that sometimes when we say "next time" there isn't going to be one. The world is a little darker and more dissonant tonight. :-(


cat lying on desk, head on one keyboard, feet reaching for another

I have had two cats who went into kidney failure. It was a long, slow process, during which we could alleviate symptoms and slow it down. By "slow" I mean a couple years.

Orlando had no symptoms. He'd go through phases of not eating much and then a couple days later he'd be back to normal. His bloodwork showed none of the markers that kicked in for Erik and Embla a couple years out. Everything looked fine in an ultrasound earlier this year. That picture was taken two weeks ago.

Last weekend his appetite dropped a lot, but he was drinking and producing output. He was spending more time sleeping in a closet, a new favorite hiding spot. Otherwise he was normal. I consulted my vet, who concurred that I didn't need to rush to the ER, and she saw him Tuesday. He had a bad tooth, it turns out, and she thought that might be the cause, and she ran bloodwork both because he was due and because it was required before oral surgery.

She called yesterday with the lab results and said he was in kidney failure. This was not the long, slow chronic kidney failure with which I was familiar; this was something else. It was possible that he had an infection and that was causing it ("though these numbers are really off the charts"), and on that hope I took him back yesterday (after a long and frustrating search of the house; he did not want to be found). They started him on IV fluids and antibiotics.

This morning he was worse. He could barely stand and wasn't interested in trying. The infection theory was a longshot, my vet said, and even if it were that, treating it would not reverse much of what we were seeing. I went back, held him, and said goodbye. This is always the hard part -- saying goodbye, but also all the self-doubt and what-ifs and did I do enough and am I doing the right thing and... Orlando wasn't fighting it, and I dearly hope I did what's best for him.

I adopted Orlando from Animal Friends in 2012, along with Giovanni of blessed memory. The people at the shelter thought he was about six years old at the time, my vet thought younger, and another vet (more recently) thought older. He had a good (almost) ten years after a rough start in life. That will have to be enough reassurance.


Somebody on Twitter asked:

What did you learn in 2020 (besides how to make bread)?

I responded there:

  • To grow food in pots.
  • To cut men's hair.
  • To cook more new things.
  • That my cat loves me being home all the time.
  • More about community-building.
  • How to set up a nonprofit foundation.
  • To cut people w/no morals or human decency out of my life.
  • And yes, sourdough.

I was up against a character limit there, but I'm not here. Read more…


We received a beautiful and serendipitous gift today for our 20th wedding anniversary (which was a couple weeks ago, but shipping is more complicated during a pandemic). The serendipity requires backstory:

A few years ago, in a year of big design changes, Stack Overflow had a contest with SO-branded cheese boards as prizes. I won one. Recently I've been divesting myself of some of my SO swag and packing most of the rest away, because of the pain and also because I'm not very interested in promoting that company by, say, wearing those t-shirts in public any more.

I offered some of my Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange swag to folks on Mi Yodeya, with the price being a torah teaching of the recipient's choice. I got some thoughtful torah, and a taker for the cheese board. I sent it off to its new home a couple months ago.

We eat cheese not infrequently, by the way.

And then today, somebody who knows nothing of Stack Overflow, recent events there, or swag, sent us this:

bigger nicer cheese board

It's beautiful and well-crafted, and I look forward to using it with much fondness. Yay, 20 years of marriage! Yay, nice gift from someone who didn't know about the extra niceness!

Vet visit

Orlando had a couple of teeth pulled today. When I picked him up this afternoon, the vet tech warned me that because of the anesthesia he wouldn't be hungry. I said "Orlando not interested in food??". Orlando said "challenge accepted".

When we got home he raced to where the food dish should have been and glared at me until I corrected that. I gave him a small spoonful, and he gobbled it up and looked at me as if to say "oh, we're doing appetizers now before the entrees? Well, I'm ready for the meal now". So I gave him more and he happily ate it. (And kept it down. :-) )



Giovanni lying at top of stairs

I adopted Giovanni from Animal Friends in 2012 (along with Orlando). He wasn't shy in our first meeting; he was immediately comfortable with me and purred non-stop. The folks at the shelter thought he was around 6 or 7.

A week ago I didn't know what FIP was. Giovanni had been losing weight for a little while, but about a month ago his appetite dropped and we started looking in earnest for the cause. The ultrasound suggested possible lymphoma, and a week ago yesterday he went in for surgery to get samples for a biopsy. That's only diagnostic, not corrective, so I didn't expect his appetite to pick up when I brought him home, but he became even more disinterested, no matter what I offered him (or forced into him). Wednesday night he was very lethargic, and Thursday morning he was jaundiced. Back to the vet we went.

The biopsy results had just come back -- no lymphoma, but the lab suggested testing the sample for FIP because that was consistent with all the symptoms we were seeing. We admitted him to the hospital so they could give IV fluids and nutrients. I began reading veterinary articles online about FIP.

FIP is progressive, incurable, and fatal. We thought we might have weeks or perhaps a couple months left, but he continued to decline and today Giovanni decided he was done fighting. He was a sweet kitty with a non-stop purr who was content to sleep in my lap for hours at a time on Shabbat afternoons. I miss him.

We don't know how old he was, but the consensus of the vets who've seen him recently is that there's no way he was only ten. I gave him a good home for his last years; I was just expecting more of them.

Giovanni on top of cat condo

Anniversary party (pet stories)

Stack Exchange has a Pets site. For its first anniversary, there was a meta thread that invited people to share favorite pet stories, funny or heartwearming or otherwise. I made two posts: Read more…

Life with cats

Life with cats: the loud protestations of outrage over my betrayal -- picking them up only to put them in those boxes,1 to go to that place, hmpf! -- ended as soon as we reached dinner-time. As I suspected. :-)

And now Giovanni is extremely interested in my mug of chai. Previous cats were only interested in mint tea (mint being, I'm told, a member of the catnip family). Silly cat; you can't get your head far-enough into the mug to get that. (Please let that be true. Here, let me make sure you can't...)

1 Well, in Giovanni's case, more like a duffel bag. He does very badly in a conventional carrier ("bad" meaning "scratched his claws bloody on his first vet visit"), so I have a soft-sided, padded, zippered carrier for him and he likes that much better.

Oh great

Orlando has gone into hiding...somewhere in the subset of the house that is available to him. I last saw him Monday morning, when he was happy to eat canned food from (a dish in) my hand. He's around -- the food and water are being consumed and the litter boxes are being used -- but he's found a good spot and doesn't want to come out yet. Sigh.

There've been no feline hostilities that I'm aware of. These seems to be "new environment, scary!" anxiety.

I wonder if I need to postpone tomorrow night's vet appointment. How long does this phase usually last? (Giovanni seems to have skipped it, at least so far.)

Edit 11PM: Got him! The way to Orlando's heart is through his stomach; I used bowls of food behind closed doors to gradually narrow the search until I had it down to one room. Actually catching him in that room was a bit of a challenge, but he and Giovanni are now in my office together, where I plan to keep both of them until the vet appointment tomorrow night. After that they can have their freedom back.

The naming of cats

This will require more evaluation, but it's possible that, after watching my new cats in action for a couple days, they are Felix and Oscar.

I've been using wet food to try to lure them out of hiding and into my lap (or at least into petting range). Gumbo sees the food, stuffs his face as far into the tub as possible, and starts slurping it down. And when he eats the dry food, he manages to scatter some of it around on the floor. And the paper under the water bowl is wet. He totally seems like the kind of cat who would, if he had opposable thumbs and enough strength, drink the milk straight from the bottle and not notice that it's a few days past its expiration date besides.

Beanie, on the other hand, delicately licks up the food, moving slowly and deliberately. He washes up after meals (and at other times). If he could talk, he gives every impression of a cat who would ask for a tablecloth, cutlery, and a flower in a vase to bring his dining experience up to an acceptable level. He is also fastidious in using the litter box, covering completely and then knocking his paws on the edge of the box to avoid tracking litter.

But it's too soon to tell if these are their usual behaviors or the result of being in a strange environment. Their default positions are still "in hiding", though Beanie actually explored my office with me in it to watch today, so that's progress.

Both of them purr at length and fairly loudly, by the way. The medical notes I got said, for both of them, that the vet couldn't clearly listen to their lungs because of the noise.

Later update:

I've decided that Felix and Oscar aren't the right names for the cats; the initial behaviors that prompted them haven't continued. I'm currently leaning toward Orlando and Giovanni, which pass the random-friends-and-relatives test and the neighborhood test (would I be embarrassed calling an escapee?). A pair of perfectly-nice Italian names will suit, and if you happen to know that I'm a fan of Renaissance music, you might correctly detect a further inspiration for those names in particular. :-) (Orlando is the brown one, who's also the lovey guy who sleeps in my lap purring loudly.)