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.

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.)


Meet the two new additions to our household, courtesy of Animal Friends:

This fellow is 4 years old according to his previous owner and 6 years old according to the shelter's vet. He was surrendered due to an illness in the family (no details). He's been living in one of the multi-cat rooms at the shelter for a couple months. He's gentle and was pretty affectionate at the shelter, though he's currently hiding behind a radiator in my office. I understand these things can take a little while. The name he came with is "Beanie", though he shows no signs of knowing it (I asked) so changing it will do no harm.

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And this fellow is 5 or 6 years old according to the shelter's vet. He was part of a rescue from a hoarder (approximately 25 cats living in terrible neglect) and has only been at the shelter a few days. He, too, was very affectionate (walked right into my lap and started purring). He is currently hiding behind some books on a bookcase in the TV room. The shelter issued him the holding name "Gumbo" and I can definitely change that. (Apparently when they get a hoard they give them grouped names. Gumbo is from the "G" hoard.)

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Even though both have lived with other cats and we all spent some time together in one of their "cat meeting rooms" today, the counselor told me to separate them for at least a couple days, and definitely confine each to one room so they don't get overwhelmed. (Then, standard cat-introduction protocols.) So there will be a small delay before they're roaming the house freely, sitting in my lap in the living room and (perhaps) sleeping on the bed.

Better pictures will presumably come when they're more settled. It's hard to tell from these pictures, but "Beanie" is much larger than "Gumbo".

So, what should I name them? Suggestions very welcome!

Two thumbs up: Iris and Ivory Tea House, Cheswick PA

My parents' 50th wedding anniversary was last week, and we threw a luncheon party for them today at Iris and Ivory Tea House in Cheswick (Pittsburgh suburbs). They treated us very well and on that basis I recommend them for parties up to around 70 people (their maximum capacity).

The tea house is closed on Sundays except for private parties like ours, so we were not sharing the place, and the attention of the staff, with anybody else (a concern I had when looking at party rooms in larger places). Michelle, Angela, and Vanessa were extremely attentive, taking care of our every need promptly while never ever being in the way. The room was beautifully set. (We were in the Iris Room, which looks like it could comfortably hold up to around 40 people.)

The food was tasty and well-presented. The tossed salads had plenty of "real" vegetables, not the often-found mound of greens with two cucumber slices and a few cherry tomatoes. The tilapia was flavorful, and I heard good things about the other dishes. There was not as much variety in the roasted vegetables as I'd hoped for, but they were good nonetheless. (The squash-averse might have a different opinion on that.) The portions were filling and not excessive.

They do not have a liquor license but invited us to bring wine (or spirits) if we wanted, on condition that we pour it ourselves. They provided openers and ice buckets for our (white) wine, so that was no trouble at all. They also said we were welcome to bring in our own cake, which we did, though they could have provided desserts.

They are normally open for lunch and tea but not for dinner (except for catering business like ours). So I was in the possibly-unusual position of choosing a party venue without ever having eaten there, but I got a favorable impression from talking with them so I decided to go for it. I'm glad I did; it worked out very well.

Farewell, Baldur

Baldur, February 28 1993 - July 6 2012. Feisty and friendly, cranky and comforting, and always a true friend. I will miss you.

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Prayer for a cat

Baldur has been slowly declining since he came down with heart disease at the end of March. He's still been fighting it, but clearly he's slowing down. I had to decide whether to cancel this trip while I could still get much of my money back, and at that time it seemed safe. My vet wouldn't quantify this before my trip, but it seemed like weeks or a couple months.

Since I left he's been declining more rapidly. Quite a bit of fluid has built up in his chest, his heart rate is slowing down, and he's not eating much now. He spends all his time sleeping, pretty much. (He's being boarded at the vet.) He does not appear to be in any pain. They did an EKG (I think that's the test) and (layman's terms here and I'm writing this without Google to hand) there's an electrical problem in his heart; the communications aren't all getting through. In a younger cat they'd talk about a pacemaker, but he can't survive surgery.

I don't know if God responds to prayer, but I pray that Baldur can hang on until I get home. If I get one night with him sleeping at my side or at least an hour to hold him in my lap, one chance for him to know that I didn't abandon him and that I love him, I will be satisfied.

Please, God, give him a few more days. Do not punish me for coming to Jerusalem to study torah. Please.

"7 things" parlor game

There was a parlor game going around where someone else picks seven things for you to write about and you do -- short or long, meaningful or random.

Justin gave me: Faith. Family. Communication. Study. Music. Language. Service.

Faith: Faith is a combination of commitment, fidelity, and trust. It does not come easily to me; it has to be earned. Which poses a problem: how can I have faith in God, when I can hardly make demands of God? What could God do to earn my faith? This is something of a conundrum, and perhaps the answer is that I don't so much have faith in God as have entered a partnership with him. And perhaps this is why the Catholic view of God I was raised with never resonated but the Jewish view makes perfect sense: we have a contract with God, with obligations on both sides, and however hard it is to explain, I do have faith that keeping this contract will produce -- and has already produced -- positive outcomes.

Family: My parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this summer. Their commitment to each other seems as strong now as what I remember when I was a child. That's fabulous, and I wish more of my friends (and my husband) had the benefit of such strong parental relationships.

On this Father's Day, let me list some of the important values my father in particular taught to me, not through words by by modeling the right behaviors. (a) Principles matter, and that can mean not taking the easy, expedient path. (b) Education, and in particular learning how to reason, is critical. (c) Reaching and failing is still better than not trying.
(d) Stand up for yourself, or for others, if you see something that's wrong. (e) You can accurately judge a man by how he treats animals. (f) Power tools are dangerous.

Communication: I communicate pretty well through the written word most of the time. I struggle with the other forms. I am not nearly as articulate and quick-thinking in conversation as I would like to be, and I miss subtle body language. On the other hand, I seem to have developed some sort of perception that can detect when a conversation is going badly (e.g. boring or frustrating someone) when others around me don't seem to, and I don't know what's up with that. But all in all people are hard, and I am most comfortable in environments where people are not afraid to be blunt and don't take offense if people are blunt with them. Fortunately, the software industry is full of such people. :-)

Study: I don't remember who said "when I stop learning, bury me", but that's spot-on. Study is the active pursuit of learning, but more than that, I've come to understand it as a pursuit of its own. I study talmud with one rabbi and midrash with another, both on a regular basis, and for most of what we're studying there is no earthly reason that knowing this material will help me (it's not practical knowledge), yet I love it anyway -- there is a "meta" level to the study that is about how arguments are formed and what factors are important to the rabbis and what implicit or explicit questions they had that needed to be addressed through law or stories. In a way, the same can be said for the historical study I do; knowing thus-and-such about Viking culture, or 15th-century cooking, or Iberian Spain, or military tactics, or any of a number of crafts doesn't really matter in the modern world, but it sure is neat.

Music: I enjoy singing, but spent a long time thinking I wasn't any good at it. (Public-school choir and its crappy alto lines of doom, I'm looking at you.) One of the things that's great about the SCA is that it provides a venue to try things you might not (yet) be any good at, so when a local choir formed I joined and learned some of the things I'd been doing wrong, like that there was something other than chest voice. (Getting some voice lessons also helped.) On the instrumental side, after several years of childhood piano lessons (I think I also wasn't very good at that, in retrospect), I didn't do anything until college or just after, when I started listening to folk music involving non-guitar instruments. I started with mountain dulcimer and then moved to hammer dulcimer, which seemed very natural and comfortable and didn't care how I breathed or whether I could fret chords. For all that the layout looks funky, it's a linear instrument, like the piano that was my introduction to playing instruments. Aside from the challenge of tuning a bazillion strings (and perhaps hearing them go out of tune in the span of one concert in a bad environment), it's a very nice instrument.

Language: I was and probably still am a slow learner when it comes to vocabulary. But when it comes to structure, I have strong instincts. This is a blessing and a curse; it does help me to write what I mean, but I will notice a misplaced "only" or a dangling modifier and wonder what the author really meant, and that can be frustrating when I'm just trying to read for enjoyment. It's kind of what I imagine having perfect pitch must be like. On the other hand, this makes me pretty good at reviewing laws and policies, a skill I've deployed in SCA and synagogue contexts. AEthelmearc arguably has me to thank for preventing the law that said all the crown prince and princess have to do is to choose a champion. :-) (They meant that choosing the champion is solely the decision of...)

Service: Service, to me, is the stuff that has to be done that isn't enough fun to be worth the effort on its own. I realize that lots of fun things are also service, and in the SCA we reward that service and I think that's good, but when I'm doing it, if I'm having fun I don't think of it so much as service. For the not-so-fun service, some people find altruism to be a core motivation. I don't, usually; I take more of my inspiration from the adage "if you want something done right, do it yourself" and the rest from social obligation, recipricosity, and avoiding the tragedy of the commons. Maybe that makes me a bad person or maybe just a realist, but there it is.

Baldur's heart

Since last I wrote about Baldur a few things have happened. A week after that post we went to Toronto for Pesach and I boarded him at the vet's so they could monitor him. (This is a new service.) While he was there they did another X-ray and reported that the fluid he'd been retaining was nearly gone, so they had me reduce the dosage of the Furosemide (diuretic) and told me to bring him back in a month.

Last week was that visit, and he had a lot of fluid in his abdomen. (Not in his lungs -- just running around in there, um, somewhere.) The vet tried to get a sample with a needle but reached the "feisty" threshold before succeeding, so didn't. She recommended another ultrasound to see if there's been a change in his heart. That was today. She also had me raise the drug dosage (splitting the difference) a few days ago; they recommend checking bloodwork 3-4 days after doing that so we timed it for the ultrasound day. (This drug can rapidly cause kidney damage; that's what they're looking for.)

The ultrasound confirmed that he has congestive heart failure; at the previous ultrasound they used words like "possible" but not this time. His heart hasn't changed much since the last one, which is good; I guess they got a closer look this time. There is also still a fair bit of fluid, though it's down some, so I am to increase the dosage again (back to that original level) and bring him in for a quick blood test Monday morning. We will probably also increase the dosage on the Enalapril (the heart medicine), but my vet understands the value of isolating variables during testing so we'll do that after confirming that the other drug's dose is fine.

She also strongly recommended that I board him with them when I go to Israel this summer. I said my cat-sitter is excellent and diligent, thinking she was worried about him not getting all his meds or something, but she pointed out that if he's there I can authorize them to use their best judgement about any on-the-fly treatments. Good point. Being in a cage, even a nice large one, for a week and a half won't be much fun, but on the other hand he spends most of his time sleeping so maybe he doesn't care?

My vet is unsure about prognosis. We're pretty sure that he won't be going out to celebrate reaching drinking age in two years, but beyond that... At this point we need to get his heart problems under control, which risks kidney problems, which -- if they show up -- we'll need to do something to compensate for, and the dance goes on. I don't know what end-stage heart failure looks like, but I do know what kidney failure looks like and that's not fun, so let's hope he continues to tolerate the heart meds. (Today his BUN was 40, last week 37, normal is up to 36. Erik and Embla stayed around 60 for a year or two before going downhill. So I'm cautiously optimistic about the kidneys.)

His pulse, on the other hand, was 100 both this week and last. Normal for him is 160-200. That's kind of freaky.

On the bright side, a friend gave me some home-grown catnip today for him and I can report that he found his first sample quite satisfactory. :-)

Baldur update

Baldur got another X-ray and an ultrasound today. (We were hoping the traveling ultrasound docs would be available and they were. I had to drop him off for the X-ray in any case.) The pleural effusion is much reduced and they told me to cut the dose of the medicine he's taking for that. The ultrasound told them that his mitral valve is leaking; this is caused by old age but the hyperthyroidism isn't helping. So they said to boost the thyroid medicine to a rate that I understand to be somewhat astonishing (20mg/day of Methimazole, up from a high 15). I asked if I should spread that out (giving it to him three times a day instead of twice); they said no, increase each dose.

Last night and this morning he lapped up tuna juice but didn't eat any solids. They reported that he ate "a couple bites" of canned food while there today. When I got home I gave him some gravy-laden food and he showed actual interest for the first time this week, so I take that as a good sign.

Baldur update

Baldur is still lethargic -- a lot of lying around, barely moving, not eating -- but last night he came upstairs and jumped up on the bed. So, mixed signals there.

The blood tests came back today. The CBC is all normal -- no anemia (yay! the fluid isn't internal bleeding!), no elevated white-cell counts (infection). His BUN (kidney number) is slightly up (45, vs. 38 a few months ago); for comparison, Embla and Erik were both into three digits at the end. Kriatinine (the other kidney number) is normal. T4, the hyperthyroid number, is high at 5.4 (his highest reading so far), despite the fact that he's getting 15mg of Methimazole a day (this is abnormally high). That's transdermal, though, because something in the pill makes him throw up, and transdermal doesn't have perfect absorption. But still...

The drugs he's on are Enalapril (the heart medicine) and Furosemide (the diuretic).

I talked with both vets tonight -- the one who saw him yesterday and my regular one. My vet is going to find out whether imaging his heart would tell us anything we could use. Other than that, we keep doing what we're doing and give the drugs time to work.

Thanks for all the replies to yesterday's post.

Poor Baldur

Yesterday Baldur suddenly became lethargic and uninterested in food (but was and is drinking water). He'd been fine Saturday, jumping into my lap and gobbling up food. Then, Sunday, nothing, and when I picked him up to put him in my lap he jumped right back down. I wondered if he'd had a stroke or heart attack; Dr. Google didn't seem to think so so I didn't go to an emergency vet last night, but today I took him to my vet's office. My vet wasn't in, but I saw another one in the practice who has seen Baldur before.

They took his blood pressure and the readings were astonishing; this high-blood-pressure kitty had below-average readings today. A chest X-ray showed pulmonary edema and pleural effusion -- fluid in the tissue of his lungs and in the chest cavity. (There was actually enough fluid that we couldn't see his heart.) The good news is that there are no tumors; the bad news is that, well, he's got fluid where it shouldn't be. Heart disease is a possible effect of hyperthyroidism (and old age). The tentative diagnosis is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Blood tests should tell us more tomorrow, including how his kidneys are doing.

So he's on some new medicines now, a heart medicine and a diuretic to try to draw out some of that fluid, and I'm pushing vitamins and watered-down food into him via syringe so he gets some nutrients. This vet didn't talk with me about prognosis; I assume my vet will.

I did ask the vet about the sudden onset, since it sounded like he was describing progressive diseases (and the net agreed when I got home and looked). He said that cats are really good at hiding problems until they become so overwhelming that they can't any more. So Baldur has probably been feeling unwell for some time (days? weeks? dunno), and I couldn't tell. Poor guy! I hope the meds help.