Monday, November 30, 2009

It Must Be Love

When I set up an appointment for Hakeem Wallace, my best furry buddy, to visit the vet, they asked if I could possibly collect a urine sample to bring in. Good question, I thought to myself, can a person collect a urine sample from a cat? How on earth?

Hakeem Wallace has never been much of a water drinker, at least not from his bowl. In his younger years he spent the better part of his days in the tub, drinking water straight from the faucet. Because of that I never really knew how much water he consumed on a daily basis. But he was healthy and young and I wasn't really worried about it. Then as he got older and fatter I switched him over to wet food at the veterinarian's suggestion, for the higher protein content that would help him drop pounds. It worked, but it also provided him with the moisture that his body needed so he really didn't drink that much noticeable water still. After the recent surgical assault on his mouth that left him with three fewer teeth than he began with, I thought I'd reintroduce dry food to ensure that he was using his teeth to crush the crunchy pellets. So now, at the age of thirteen, he is drinking water all of the time. Maybe it's nothing to worry about, just a response to the dry food, but with an older, larger animal you don't fool around and wait to find out. You have him checked out to make sure his kidneys are functioning properly and he hasn't developed diabetes. This is where the whole heretofore preposterous notion of collecting a cat urine sample came to life.

The vet tech told me over the phone that sometimes if you clean the litter box out completely, wash it up and everything, the cat will still relieve himself in it. I did not believe this for one second and haven't talked to a cat owner yet who believes it either. Cats, unless they're sick or angry, don't like to pee without benefit of some sort of matter they can cover their output with. This is a lovely topic, isn't it? Anyway, I did the real suffering, you can survive the retelling. The vet told me if I wasn't able to collect a sample, they could do it, but it would be unpleasant for the feline. This is all I needed to know. I consulted my friend Google who let me know that sometimes plastic straws will do the trick. If you cut up a bunch of plastic straws (two boxes of Food Club brand, in my case) and line the clean litter box with them as if it were sand, that might just be enough for the cat to accept and do his duty. And so I cleaned up his old maroon litter box, which still has its old original label that proclaims it to be Super-Giant in four languages. If there were a bigger size, like Super Duper Extra Ginormous, I would buy it, but Hakeem's is the largest I've ever seen, and he just fits. Then I lined the bottom with a layer of cut up flexible straws and put it back in its regular spot. I really didn't have high hopes, but sure enough, Hakeem got up off the couch for the first time in hours and had a bite to eat and some water, then walked over to the box and did exactly what he needed to do. He didn't seem to mind walking on the straws until he had to jump out of the box. I think they were slippery and he didn't care for that. But he did what he had to, I poured the urine out of his box, unfettered by absorbent litter, and collected it in a small Gladware container. I'm not sure this is what the fine folks at Glad had in mind for their fine products, but too bad. I wasn't going to use a reusable container!

So now it's all over but the shrieking. Specifically, Hakeem's feline shrieking when he gets to the vet's office tonight and smells all those awful dogs and cats and hears them barking and meowing. It's really his worst nightmare. So I guess, today at least, he and I are even.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Twice as Nice

Having a birthday on Thanksgiving like I did this week brings something quite delightful – twice the usual desserts! In addition to the pecan pie, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cream cheese swirl pie, and coconut bundt cake (what can I say, I have a giant family and my Cousin Megan and I love to bake!), there were two birthday cakes. One was the beloved DQ ice cream cake that the kids all happily devoured in about two seconds, and then there was the Wuollet's cake (pictured below) that shows me doing what I love, riding my bike with Hakeem. You can tell it's me because of my thin, athletic frame and flat chest. You can tell it's Hakeem because he's orange and very active. Could it be any cuter or more delicious? No, it could not. As for the pumpkin cream cheese swirl pie, this is the first time I've made it but it will now be the standard bearer for pumpkin pies in my household. It's really quite easy and it breaks up the solid mass of pumpkin custard that I actually love but some people find to be too much for them.

If you think my birthday celebration is over, think again. This morning will be the family get-together (Thanksgiving didn't count because we have to get together for that!) at Maria's Cafe for Cachapas Venezolanas with Cotija Cheese – giant Venezuelan sweet corn pancakes with a salty, powdery cheese on top plus maple syrup, and this week Brasa for dinner with my Hags. I'll never understand why people want to deny their birthdays, it doesn't get any better than this!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jive Turkey

Last Wednesday night at the nursing home, Alma was perusing a catalog of old time music. I asked her what kind of music she enjoyed listening to and she seemed confused, so I pointed to the Elvis CD for sale in the catalog and asked her if she liked to listen to Elvis Presley. "Oh yes, I like Elvis," she told me. Rosalie overheard our conversation and commented that she, too, liked Elvis. I asked Rosalie if she knew any Elvis songs and she suddenly broke into the King's hit Are You Lonesome Tonight? I sang along with her, helping her along at parts she had forgotten. The nurses on the floor laughed, saying they'd never heard Rosalie break into song like that. As Rosalie continued singing, alternating between Are You Lonesome Tonight? and O Holy Night, and sometimes singing both interwoven as the same song, I told Mary that she wasn't eating enough and I wanted her to eat more. Rosalie, hearing this, announced that we at our table were all "jive turkeys." Laughing on the inside, I asked her why she was calling us all jive turkeys. She answered that it was because nobody at the table was eating. She said whoever is eating is not a jive turkey. I looked at her plate, still full of ham and potatoes because she was too busy singing to eat, and said, "Then you must be a jive turkey, Rosalie, because you're not eating!" Rosalie couldn't believe she was having her super cool term, jive turkey, thrown right back at her and didn't know what to say. Mattie, who was clearly sick of listening to Rosalie belt out Elvis tunes, laughed and said to Rosalie, "She got you!"

Today I picked up an Elvis CD to bring to the nursing home next week. It should be interesting!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A River Runs Through It

It isn't often in this state that you can go for a leisurely walk along the river without freezing your ass off. So today I made especially sure to enjoy these waning days of Autumn on the Mississippi and it didn't disappoint. In the distance the river water sprayed up off of the falls and the sun cast long shadows off of the bare elms. I'm going to miss this during the next six months of winter. Ah, Minnesota.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gordo Rides Hakeem's Tail to Stardom

Boy howdy, this fat cat of mine regularly makes the news, and he takes my dad along with him for the ride! First it was, then the venerable BBC, and now The Kitty City Gazette! The Kitty City Gazette is an online compendium of fabricated news stories that star cats from around the blogosphere. I was introduced to it by my friend Debbie on her blog, Glogirly, who recommended that I send in a photo of my Hakeem. So check it out, you'll find Hakeem and Gordo in the story New California Law Cracks Down on Sale of Energy-Gobbling Cats. No autographs, please.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Waiting for Guittard

Sorry I've been absent for so long, but I've been consumed for the last week by thoughts of the new mochas being served up at Caribou Coffee. The new mochas are made with your choice of white, milk, or dark Guittard chocolate, steamed and left all melty at the bottom of your cup of sweet nectar. Most coffee shops use powdered chocolate or syrup, so this is a fairly major departure in the coffee world.

I am not a coffee drinker, unless it's fattened up nicely with chocolate and sugar and I didn't sleep particularly well the night before. I don't indulge in them often, but I really enjoy them when I do. And the place I usually enjoy them is Starbucks, so this development from Caribou is really out of left field for me.

The biggest problem, of course, is that I am in the waning days of my Month Without Sugar experiment. I'm just taking a month, along with some coworkers, to avoid candy, desserts, and other sweets such as fetching, chocolate-y mochas. So all I can do until next Wednesday is daydream about a Guittard mocha, and daydream I will. Again, I apologize that it's been so long since I've posted. But now I think you can totally understand why. It's the mocha.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stalking Tarzan

Unwittingly, I've been following in the wet footsteps of Olympic swimmer and, more famously, Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller. I don't have many memories of the handsome European as I didn't grow up watching a lot of Tarzan, but I've grown to appreciate his contributions to pop culture. I mean, he was Tarzan!

I first started accidentally following Mr. Weissmuller several years ago when I read about a hotel in Acapulco that was sort of forgotten up on the highest cliffs in this coastal Pacific city. My aim was to spend one night in Acapulco on the way from Mexico City to my fishing village paradise south of Acapulco. I wanted to be close to the famous cliff divers of La Quebrada, so when I stumbled across the Hotel Los Flamingos, just blocks away, I was excited. I'm pretty sure many of my readers have been there with me, right? Holla for Tarzan! Turns out Los Flamingos was once owned by Weissmuller and his band of funsters which included John Wayne, Fred McMurray, and Errol Flynn. That would have been enough excitement for me, but then another Weissmuller coincidence found its way into my life when a chance trip to Chicago led me to the twelfth floor pool at the InterContinental Hotel.

The junior Olympic swimming pool area at the InterContinental, considered an engineering marvel in its day many decades ago, is a gorgeous melange of intricate Mediterranean tiles, stained glass windows, and wicker tables and chairs in the gallery that make you feel like you're going back in time. No wonder Johnny Weissmuller was known to have taken a dip in the pool there, and no wonder I'm stalking him. Now if I could only find out that he spent some amount of time in a certain pool in Tahiti, I'd be ready for my next trip.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Mary doesn't respond very often to direct questions, at least not with direct answers. But tonight in the dementia unit at the nursing home she seemed to be lost in the gentle strains of the old time music wafting from the cheap boom box, so I thought I'd ask her if she knew what she was listening to. A Muzak version of Blue Moon interrupted the clink of fork tines scraping along plates and folks yelling about some imagined wrongdoing. I looked at Mary and asked her, "Mary, do you know this song?" She continued to look faraway and didn't answer. When Somewhere Over the Rainbow came on, I asked her if she knew that song. Nothing. However, Alma volunteered that she indeed knew the song. She and I then discussed watching The Wizard of Oz sometime and we agreed that would be fun. Then The Platters' tune, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, performed with a forlorn-sounding saxophone, caught my ear. I've always loved the song so I sang along and then asked Mary the obvious question, "How about this one, Mary? Smoke Gets in Your Eyes?" Mary looked right at me and said, plain as day, "Yes, sometimes it does." I couldn't help but laugh, she had answered my question, in a way.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What To Do in Chicago

Your next trip to the Second City won't be complete if you don't visit the Billy Goat Tavern, a greasy dive made famous in the old '70s Saturday Night Live sketches where Greek cooks smoked cigarettes over a hot griddle covered in juicy cheeseburgers while yelling out "cheezborger cheezborger cheezborger!" and "no fries, cheeps!" There are a few Billy Goat Tavern locations, but the real deal resides below Michigan Avenue right across from the storied Chicago Tribune building. Famous newspapermen were known to hang out at the Billy Goat, as well as SNL alumnus Dan Aykroyd and pals. It's a kitschy little workingman's saloon and has a very Northeast vibe as well, so we were quite comfortable throwing back Billy Goat Lagers and brandy sevens.

After a particularly well-made gin martini, my dad asked me to take his photo in front of the Horny Goat talk bubble meant for a stuffed goat's head affixed to the wall there. Now you know what to do the next time you make it to the Windy City. You're welcome.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ape Reflections

I would like to submit that it is not Disney World that is the Happiest Place on Earth, but rather it is the Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park in Chicago that is. Better known as "The Bean" because of its unmistakable shape, it reflects the cloudy sky as well as the city's gorgeous skyline. Michigan Avenue's stainless steel behemoth brings joy to all who encounter it, even gorillas.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gepetto Comes to Life

Last Friday I celebrated Halloween at the office by magically transforming into an exact replica of my coworker, Gerry Leone. Ok, not an exact replica, unless, as a friend pointed out, Gerry is sporting a pretty bodacious set of moobs. But I was a reasonable facsimile.

The best part about putting together the Gerry Leone look is that I purchased a wig and mustache set that was meant to be for someone dressing up as Gepetto, the creator of Pinocchio. But, I found out with glee, you can fake a pretty good Gerry Leone by way of Gepetto. I had to alter the mustache and add a little hairy soul patch under my lower lip, but it all came together pretty easily. Add a work t-shirt, a Hawaiian shirt on top of that, some jeans and a pair of running shoes, and I was almost Gerry Leone. I took it to the limit by adding some cheater eyeglasses and a train whistle sound effect on my cell phone that went off periodically. That's when I became him, if he was sort of feminine. Which he is. Just kidding.

Some of our coworkers who sit near Gerry so know his routine directed me on how to look just like him for this photo. They told me to sit in his office, next to a box of his favorite SnackWell cookies, put my feet up and kick back. Because that's how Gerry Leone rolls.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

She's Gone

My favorite nursing home resident, Angie, died last week. Most every Wednesday evening for more than a year I've spent in an old pink vinyl and wood chair squeezed between Angie and Mary, alternately feeding both a spoonful of pureed food. Angie had the physical ability to lift the fork to her mouth and feed herself, but something in her brain wouldn't trigger her hands to actually do it. She'd sit in front of her dinner all night and never touch it, but if you fed her, she'd thank you for every single spoonful before it passed her lips. Occasionally she'd take a drink of something without being told, but not often. When I'd try to encourage her to drink some milk herself, she'd point at each beverage on the tray – the juice, the tea, the milk – unsure which was milk. When I'd show her, she'd thank me and take a small sip. Angie had conversations with everyone at the table, though nobody seemed to know it. She'd laugh and nod at whatever Mary was saying, which was always gibberish, as if they were sharing a good story. Angie was always in a good mood, always smiling and pointing at the few remaining teeth she had on the bottom front of her mouth. She was expressive and delightful to be around. At the Christmas party last year, the room was pretty warm with all of the additional people helping celebrate, so Angie did what she thought she needed to do to alleviate the problem, she started stripping her turtleneck sweater right off over her head. I quickly caught her and encouraged her to put it back on and suggested we open a window instead. Of course, she happily agreed.

I received an email a few days ago from the volunteer coordinator at the nursing home that Angie had died. It included information on a celebration of her life at the home and her memorial service. I attended the memorial service yesterday at a funeral home in south Minneapolis because I really wanted to know what sort of life Angie enjoyed. It didn't seem possible that a woman so happy in dementia had been anything less in better times. There was an enormous yellowed photo of Angie as a very young woman framed at the front of the room, next to a Japanese-style urn with her ashes inside. Not surprisingly, because she was a lovely old person, she was gorgeous when she was young. There were poster boards covered in photos of Angie through the years. In her younger years pictures of her with her sister, wearing kimonos. Later, in America, there was Angie wearing dated polyester jump suits and sporting bad perms, but always looking radiant. Angie's son spoke for quite a long time, sharing stories about Angie that were wonderful to hear. He told us how Angie had been born and raised in Tokyo and how she had seven brothers and sisters, three whom had died of disease as children. She had a brother who had been trained at fifteen years old to be a kamikaze pilot but had never been called to action. She survived several bombings in Tokyo during WWII but watched several friends die. She came to America, with very little knowledge of any form of English, with an American serviceman, and endured much post-WWII Japanese hatred from Americans with anti-Japanese sentiments burned on their brains. But she never let it bother her, she understood it and dealt with it. She hated war and never wanted her sons to join the military. She loved nothing more than her family and her cats. She traveled to Mexico, Dominican Republic, Japan, and other places and loved it. Angie's son told funny stories of Angie finally learning to drive when her husband took ill with cancer, how it took seven driving tests for her to finally pass and how he thinks the driving instructor just passed her to be done with her. She took classes to learn to read and write English, but still swore and talked in her sleep in Japanese.

Then Angie's son told of her being diagnosed with dementia in 1999, which began what he called "the ten year goodbye." Angie's daughter, who worked at home, and her husband were able to take Angie in for seven years, watching her and keeping her from hurting herself. But her tendencies to wander got to be too much and they couldn't put enough locks on the doors to keep Angie from leaving and being missing for hours at a time. It was too much so they put her in the Memory Care Unit at the nursing home. It was great to hear that they thought the nursing home did a great job with her, I have no way of knowing. Angie's son said she did well in the nursing home, even attracting a suitor (Don) who spent hours with her and made her happy. But then her health started failing and soon last week Angie was in a coma and passed away the next day.

The last time I saw Angie a couple of weeks ago she complained of being in pain. She rubbed her legs and pulled her pajamas up high, revealing her skinny legs and knobby knees. I didn't know it was probably part of the beginning of the end. I don't know how the doctors and nurses who care for dementia patients figure anything out, it seems almost impossible to know what's really bothering them. I am very sad for Angie's family, and I'm definitely going to miss her every Wednesday evening, but it's weird. I sort of feel like the folks I'm with are transitional people, as if they're people at a weigh station, awaiting their next assignment. They have no history and no future. Don't get me wrong, they're fully developed people with brains and hearts and minds, but they're not the folks their families once knew and they don't have dreams of their futures ahead of them. So their passing, while sad, is inevitable and not altogether the unhappiest thing that could happen to them. They're not in a place they ever could have wanted to be. I wish they were still vital parents and sons and daughters and friends, but they're not. Their families have those memories now, and these vulnerable people, void of past and future, just need to be cared for and loved on their way to their next journey, wherever that may take them.