Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Moving through the stages

It was rather heartening that as Ontario moved more and more regions to stage 2 of reopening, that cases continued to trend downward. In stage 2, restaurants could serve food and drinks on outdoor patios; one could get haircuts, manicures, and tattoos (but not facials); and malls could open their doors.

Now areas are moving into stage 3: indoor dining (with spaced tables and occupancy limits); bars (!!!)—though only seated, no dancing, live music only behind plexiglass; gyms; and facials (for those who care, which isn’t me). Indoor limits increased to 50, not counting staff. And the case trend? Has become a bit of a roller-coaster.

No doubt this is all rather trickier than the earliest stage of, basically, hiding in your basement.

The mood

I called last summer my “lost summer”, as I spent so much of it battling anxiety and depression, and therefore struggling to really enjoy anything—or even leave the house. This summer, of course, there are so many external reasons it’s hard (or at least unwise) to leave the house.

But weirdly, my mood is so much better this summer. (Mind you, the cat conflicts were really stressing me out last summer, and now my cats are super happy to be getting so much attention. Maybe all I really need is contented pets.)

Not that I’m super cheery all the time. And of course, early on, I was definitely battling anxiety. Like anyone else, I was scared of getting the disease, and virus seemed to lurk everywhere. Now I’m not thinking about it as much–though I still have the occasional, vivid, coronavirus-related bad dream about finding myself in crowds of maskless people.

And I certainly have cranky days on a semi-regular basis. The difficulty in acquiring goods–slow and unreliable Canada Post delivery, shortages, the need to preorder everything, limited store hours–definitely put me in a bad mood at time. And at some points, I was getting super irritated with the government response: that for too long not enough tests were being done, that the testing criteria was too restricted, that contact tracing wasn’t happening fast enough, that the province wasn’t taking a regional approach to reopening.

But on both counts (goods and governance) thing have improving. I still get the crankies, just not quite as often or for as long.

Gratitude can help with these things. Thank God I’m not going through these troubled times while in a dark pit of despair and fear.

Travel

And, getting away can help too. After a few stay-cations, we hoped to go somewhere for our July vacation, albeit within this province. At least it’s a big province!

But planning it was tricky. The final regions of the province had just moved into stage 2, with no indication when stage 3 would happen. We’d think of places, like Manitoulin Island, then find they didn’t particular want visitors or, like Tobermory, that their hotels were priced such that well, maybe they didn’t want visitors, either. Restaurant-wise, we’d be limited to patios and takeout.

So it became mostly a family-visiting trip, but as the drive to Timmins is long, we added a stop in Orillia on the way up, and a stop in Sudbury via Muskoka on the way back.

Hotels

Jean’s Mom was quite suspicious of hotels, doubting they could possibly be kept clean enough. I was considerably less worried. As we’re learning, it’s not so much surfaces that are the issue, but people (and their moist breath). Hotels aren’t particularly crowded these days, and of course, you get a room of your own.

Thinking we might be eating takeout in them, we decided to upscale our rooms a bit and get a suite. This proved a bit disappointing in Orillia, where we stayed at the Stone Gate Inn. Certainly the room was big enough, with the extra kitchen and living room we wanted. But it also seemed a bit old and shaby. And covid protocols there meant no coffee maker, no dishes at all (not even wrapped plastic cup), no complimentary newspaper. While I believe these items were available upon request, it was kind of odd.

The complimentary breakfast was handled by having us call in the night before with what we wanted and what time. The next morning, they’d call when it was ready, and we’d go to the lobby and pick it up to bring back to our room to eat. That, we actually liked–preferable to the usual buffet breakfast!

But in general, we were happier with the Sudbury Homewood Suites by Hilton. The suite there was basically the same size and layout, but just a bit newer and shinier. (They made a point of noting that the TV remotes had been sanitized.) And, it included a coffee maker, dishes, and newspaper. Whether that was because we were there on the first day of stage 3 or just a difference with that hotel chain, I dunno.

There we could have eaten breakfast in the dining room (turned out to be the first day of stage 3), but we decided to just bring it to our room anyway. It was a pick up your own food deal, but with everything cold individually wrapped, and hot options served by staff wearing gloves and mask, and not via a common utensil.

Restaurants

We had been thinking of just doing takeout in Orillia, but the uninspiring hotel room, combined with the fact that patio menus looked more interesting than takeout ones (for the same restaurant, I mean) led us to eat at a restaurant for the first time since March.

Oh my God, it was so great.

We had fine weather for our two suppers there, so that made outdoor patios appealing. We ate early the first night, and thus were able to grab the last available table at Rustica Pizza Vino. (Then they had to get our contact information, just in case.) I did feel that the tables were nicely spaced, and the breeze was comforting. We had to look at the menu online, on our phones. All the waitstaff wore masks.

So we weren’t feeling especially stressed as we were served wine, and very fresh salad, and tasty pasta, then dessert (affogato!). It was glorious.

The next night, at The Common Stove, was even better. (We made a reservation the day prior.) They used an alley between buildings as their “patio”, putting a covering over it with lights, that actually gave it a really nice atmosphere! They had quite a creative menu that was delicious, from starter to dessert.

Eating out for the first time since March. Table service, I’ve missed you so.

In Sudbury, we made patio reservations at another Italian place, Verdicchio Ristorante. Our Timmins friends were wondering what said patio would be like, given that the restaurant was located in more of an industrial mall. But they had also done a lovely job of fencing off a patio area, adorning it with vines and grapes. We enjoyed the food and wine here as well.

A lovely patio in a parking lot

We’re now inspired to finally try a local patio as well. (Think we’ll still hold off on indoor dining for now.)

Answering the call

The pandemic also spotlighted the fact that when all restaurants close, it becomes really tricky to meet certain biological needs while traveling. On this trip, things had opened up enough that it wasn’t too much of an issue, but I still wanted highlight:

  • The truly lovely facilities available at the Scout Valley Loop Trail site in Orillia. (Pretty nice walking there, as well.)
  • The remarkably good facilities at a little restaurant in White River, just outside Sudbury. This stop allowed us to enjoy our hike on the AY Jackson trail.
Falls at the AY Jackson trail

Shopping

In Orillia, we did another thing we hadn’t really done since March: Casually browse through some stores for fun. It was a Monday, and none of the stores were busy—in fact, we were generally the only customers. As well, Orillia’s new mask bylaw had just come into effect. So it felt pretty comfortable. I got a nice new pair of walking shoes, and some earrings from a really cool art store.

A social circle

Timmins, we had to conclude, was looking kind of sad, and we weren’t particularly enticed to either shop nor dine out. But of course, that stop was mostly about seeing people.

Ontario has this guideline about creating a “social circle” of up to 10 people that you agree to be close contacts with. No one’s to belong to more than one social circle. Well-intentioned, but kind of complicated, and also impractical for large, geographically distributed families. So we have not formed any formal “social circle”, but are just winging it.

We did visit indoors with my Dad and Jean’s Mom, but avoided hugging–though I don’t know how much sense that made. We visited with the brothers (mine and Jean’s) mostly outdoors. We visited with friends in their outdoor gazebo–though they thought it was absurd (and hilarious) that we brought own beverages. We did visit the interior of Jean’s sister’s house in Sudbury (but still no hugging!). And on the way home, we stopped in to see my sister and family at their rented cottage in Muskoka, mostly hanging outdoors.

Rented cottage living…

It’s going on two weeks now, and everyone seems to have survived these encounters.

Of masks and men

As we were traveling, masks were becoming mandatory in more and more communities in Ontario—even in northern ones, where I had figured the low case incidence and less crowding would cause them to give it a pass. But as in Orillia, we arrived in Sudbury just in time for their mask bylaw, and in Timmins it was to go into effect the following week.

Sign in Orillia (with its own sense of justice)

The provincial government’s approach of being all in favor of face masks but requiring every city and town in the province to decide for themselves whether to make them mandatory is bizarre. Super inefficient, for one thing. And obviously leading to each place in the province having their own little twist on the mask mandate, even if they’re only five minutes apart. Some examples off the top of my head:

  • Toronto has no enforcement. Waterloo Region has fines up to $1000.
  • In Sudbury, you only need masks if moving inside a restaurant. In Waterloo, you need to wear them on restaurant patios as well, until seated.
  • In Toronto, until recently, you had to wear masks on the municipal subway and buses, but not on the provincial Go trains and buses they connect to.
  • A number of work places are not covered by the Waterloo bylaw, including day cares (for the workers, not the children).
  • In Guelph, stores and restaurants themselves have to enforce the mask mandate. In Waterloo, it’s enforced by the municipality.

It’s just all muddled and stupid and confusing. But, at least most places seem to be getting there, and best I can tell, compliance is reasonably good.

Reading list

Libraries reopened, sort of, a few weeks before we left, and I decided to acquire physical material (book books) before leaving. You have to reserve what you want online, then go pick it up. At my local library, for some reason, it’s a drive-through pickup. I’m not a fan. It was quite a line-up of cars, making it slow, and all that idling is not environmental. At the pick-up spot, you called to give your library card number. The loan was then brought out and placed in the trunk, in a paper bag, with a note assuring that the book had been “quarantined” for at least 72 hours prior.

A bit excessive, maybe? And I’m still left wondering how someone without a car (or a cell phone) is supposed to borrow books. (Normally, I walk there myself.)

I also borrowed a few items from the Kitchener Public Library, and that pickup process was much better. Go in on foot (limits on the numbers, but there was only other person there when I arrived), wearing a mask, hand over your card to the employee behind the plexiglass, and your books are brought out to a table. Faster and less carbon emission-y.

With both libraries, items are now checked out for six weeks rather than three–very good for me.

But I’m making good progress on all of them. From Kitchener, I got a series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 comics. I’d been rewatching a lot of Buffy lo these many weeks, but as it was moving along into Season 5, I stopped, feeling that I just didn’t want to get into [Spoiler alert!] Joyce dying, then Buffy dying…

But in Season 10 Buffy comics (I learned via Google alert), Buffy and Spike finally have the mature, loving, healthy romantic relationship they never quite around to on the actual series. I then learned (via Google searching) that these comics are out of print and rather impossible to purchase anywhere at a reasonable price. So I was rather pleased the library came to my rescue!

Spuffy smoochies!

From Waterloo I acquired Jan Wong’s Out of the Blue. I’ve been meaning to read it for some time, but I’m finding it especially interesting now–likely more than I would have before last summer. Because it’s about how she uncharacteristically responded to some work stressors with a severe bout of anxiety and depression. In between describing what was happening with her fairly public career as a Globe and Mail columnist, she provides research into the nature, cause, treatment of, and prevalence of depression. Some really good stuff on a topic I didn’t know as well as I thought I did.


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About that new normal

Things are tentatively reopening in Ontario—parks (not for camping yet), stores (but not the ones in malls), some medical and veterinary procedures (excluding dentists and optometrists).

But Ontario simply hasn’t been testing enough. So we just don’t know what the real levels of community spread are. The only certain thing, at least in my part of Ontario, is that there is some.

So you really have to do your own risk assessment to determine what newly possible activities you want to take advantage of. The blog post The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them has been really influential, with a lot of newspaper articles covering similar points. What’s the gist?

Successful infection = Exposure * Time.

The worst cases occur with a group of people close together indoors in a building with poor ventilation who are speaking loudly (or singing) and sharing food. So it’s safer to be outdoors, and when indoors, best to be able to keep some distance from others, and not stay too long.

This means that some activities that many of us have been worried about—because it’s the only ones we privileged types have been going out to do—aren’t actually that much of a risk. Walking (or riding or jogging) past people outside, even if it’s a bit less than six feet away—is not that risky because the interaction is so brief and the virus doesn’t transmit that well in open air.

Going to the grocery store? Also not that bad, because you’re not there that long, the number of people is restricted such that it’s not crowded, and you’re moving around fairly quickly past different people. Plus with the lone shopping, not so much talking going on. Wearing a mask is a nice gesture also, mostly to protect the store workers from you.

So it will be with other stores that can now open but with restricted occupancy. Plan what you want to buy there, get it efficiently while keeping space, then get out. Wash your hands, and wash them again after unpackaging whatever you bought. (And wash your mask if you wore one.)

Odds are you’re going to be all right.

Working 9 to 5

But what about working in our own offices for 8 to 9 hours a day?

I would note that I have not been asked to do this, so this is merely hypothetical musing.

Atul Gawande, in the New Yorker, notes that hospitals have done a pretty good job of preventing spread among healthcare workers there, and wonders if some of there approaches can be adapted to other workplaces: Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, a Regimen for Reentry. The four-point plan is basically:

  1. Employee screening, with orders to stay home if you’re sick

Gawande notes the issue with relying on temperature checks only: Apart from the fact that some with the disease never do develop a high fever, for those that do, the onset is typically later than with other, milder symptoms. So you really want people with scratchy throats or body aches staying away, even if they’re fever-free. That would need to be made clear.

2. Frequent hand washing

Great, as long as there is copious hand sanitizer about. Otherwise, there would be serious sink lineups happening.

3. Keep distance between employees as much as possible

Definitely a challenge in my office, which (like many) has gone for cramming more cubicles into less space, and even some “banquet table” style seating (side by side and facing, with no separation at all). Many of us having standing desks that put us above divider height (as lower dividers were installed to encourage collaboration). Is it possible to rearrange everything to actually seat everyone six feet apart, with higher dividers? Dunno.

4. Wear masks

Yeah, it’s one thing to wear a mask for a brief shopping trip or transit ride, but quite another to wear one for most of an 8-hour work day. Yes, healthcare workers do, and thank you to them: I’ve seen the photos of how uncomfortable that is. But surgical masks, at least, are better masks than the ones we can get (per the Gawande article); less hot, more breathable.

Furthermore, what about my drinking habit? Seriously, at work, I drink all day long. First coffee…

Then water, then maybe a tea, a decaf, some more water… I think it somewhat defeats the purpose if you’re constantly taking the mask off and on (and so is everyone else). But working dehydrated and with a caffeine headache, with a sweaty face and foggy glasses, does not sound like a recipe for great productivity. (And what about lunch? My afternoon snack?)

So I think some thought needs to be given as to the purpose of actually returning to work at the office.

Environmental factors

For me, though I’m slowly working on it, it’s still true that my office setup is more ergonomic than my home one; my desk there is just better For some people, home might not be a particular good workspace due to noise, pets, lighting, other family members, etc. For those purposes, it could make sense to allow a certain percentage to work at the office each day, as potentially the numbers could be kept low enough that spacing is fairly easy and masks less necessary.

Social factors

Seeing people, and the ease of talking to them. Team building. Building culture. All being missed, but how easy to get back?

You can’t be cramming people into small meeting rooms to have discussions like we used to. We can’t have fitness classes with the previous numbers of attendees. The communal kitchen is a bit of a hazard. Coffee machines might be have to be disabled, so more chats there. Going over to talk to someone might be less welcomed. We can’t open windows. Outside meetings could be nice in July, less so in January. The elevator could become a scary space. Also, the bathroom.

Basically, it’s hard to build warm and fuzzy feelings toward your coworkers when they seem like disease vectors.

And what about leisure activities

The Saturday Globe and Mail featured a list of 46 changes they predicted for the post-pandemic world. (Most of these items are not available online, I’m finding—so no links for you.) I didn’t find it too depressing til I got to the Arts section. (Whereas, the point that flying might not be that fun—or cheap? Not exactly new, right? And at least we might finally get more space.)

But it wasn’t the one about rock concerts likely moving toward smaller venues with sky-high ticket prices. For one thing, there aren’t that many bands still on my “must-see” list. For another, if I did feel I could indulge in such an experience, it could be kind of cool. The article also postulated a cheaper streaming option might be available—which doesn’t sound bad.

And the one claiming that movie theatres would only play blockbusters seemed doubtful. Wouldn’t your little art movies, attracting only the smaller crowds you want, be more feasible?

No, it was the one about theatres moving more to one-act plays, because:

a) They’re cheaper, so the crowd can be smaller

b) Makes it way easier for the actors to keep distance than in a big musical

But not because of plays themselves, which I don’t go to that often anyway.

It’s that it made me think about symphonies.

By their nature, that’s a whole lot of musicians crowded together, some of them playing wind instruments. (Which sometimes need to be cleared of spittle mid-concert, as I recall.) Let alone when it’s a special show with singers or dancers or trapeze artists, or what have you.

And how close the audience seats are? And the crowded lobbies before? And the bathroom lineups? How do you get this to work?

This might not be feasible

Is it viable for a symphony to play with the musicians spaced apart on the stage, to a 25% capacity house, if that’s what’s needed?

I’m doubtful. And it makes me really sad.


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Things accomplished during my stay-cation

The companies have made it clear that we need to take the vacation days to which we are entitled this year–and preferably not all in that last quarter of it. We hope to eventually be able to visit family, even if it’s a hug-free and highly hand wash-y affair.

But our initial two-day vacation was strictly home-based, with different goals than a typical vacation. Less about museums, mountains, and fine dining—and more about just keeping busy with something other than work.

Therefore, hiking the local trails was the main excitement. Though it’s somewhat discouraged, we did drive to trail in Cambridge, and to a RIM park trail on the other side of Waterloo. But the best one we did was in the nature area just outside our door.

Young deer
This guy wasn’t too worried about us
Duck

We also enjoyed walking the neighbourhood Columbia Forest that we snowshoe on in winter. Not as much wildlife viewed, but some lovely foliage, along with it just being interesting terrain (for this part of Ontario).

Trillium
Trillium, Ontario’s flower
Purple flowers
Little purple flower (I’m not good at identifying flowers!)

I’d had the idea of ordering wine from a Beamsville winery and driving to pick it up, but then that seemed… not really that fun. And a lot of wineries offer free shipping.

So while we were not low on wine overall (we just routinely buy bottles way faster than we drink them), we were out of certain styles, such as Ontario Riesling. Not worth standing in an LCBO line up for, but definitely worth ordering from Angel’s Gate Winery: we got both dry and off-dry Riesling styles. And while at it, added a still and a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, a Gamay Noir, and a Syrah. Though warned that shipping could be delayed, the box arrived in two days. We’ve only tried the dry Riesling so far, but it was excellent (and only $15, despite being a well-aged 2008).

Restaurant Relief Case

We’d also been mooning over Wine Align‘s offers of wines normally sold only to restaurants, but now available to the public at the price restaurants would have paid. When the latest case included a donation to support local restaurants and food banks, that seemed excuse enough to go ahead. The mixed case of 12, which just arrived, includes an Italian Chianti, Argentian Malbec, New Zealand Sauvignon, French Cote du Rhone red, and a Spanish cava.

For food, of course, it was mostly home cooking. I made a chocolate-peanut butter pie, I roasted a chicken for dinner one day, and on another made “baked” ziti in the Instant Pot, by following this recipe: Instant Pot Baked Ziti—only vegetarian style, as I didn’t have any ground turkey or Italian sausage. It was still really good, and very easy.

The last vacation day, we got takeout from White Rabbit.

White Rabbit takeout
Fish tacos, cauliflower “wings”, protein power bowl, and more! (Yes, we had leftovers.)

Then, there was the matter of my hair. Going on nine weeks since my last hair appointment, it was both rather long (at least for me) and rather gray-rooty. I decided to tackle the easy part first: dyeing the roots. I was lucky that one of the few remaining colours available from Shoppers was the one I wanted anyway, and also that I don’t have complicated color requirements that (I have learned from Internet reading) are tough to do at home. I just wanted to make the gray more brown. Success!

Me with long but brown hair
Hair coloured but not cut

As for the cutting, Jean’s since made a few modest efforts to shorten the longer pieces that were falling into my face.

He hasn’t missed his calling as a hairdresser.

But, it’s also not a total disaster, and with a bit of gel and hairspray, I can now mostly just style that hair off my face, which is fine. I’m a bit daunted about what to do about the overgrown layers behind that… Attempt a trim? Let it all grow out to equal length? Bah. Still pondering that one.

In the most-est fun ever, we also got our taxes done. This year we used a new (to us) “pay what you want” software, SimpleTax. It doesn’t “walk you through” the tax form in the same way as TurboTax does, so it’s good to have an idea what deductions you qualify for (and therefore, to not have a very complicated taxes to file). But, that also gave you more ability to move around the different forms than TurboTax did, and I liked that aspect. (Along with paying less to do my taxes.)

And it’s true (and maybe sad) that doing taxes wasn’t even the least fun thing I did on vacation. That would be spending a lot of Sunday (the one day with crappy weather) trying to figure out what was wrong with my Sonos sound system. It somehow kept losing the Internet, even though our Internet was running fine. This affected our morning alarm (CBC radio), which set up the whole day badly, and continued with streaming music stuttering out on a regular basis all day.

It’s also very strange to have your Google speaker tell you: “I cannot find the Internet.”

Cat meows at Alexa speaker
From https://www.iizcat.com/post/5485/When-a-cat-meets-Alexa-comic-

The fix, for the 0.0001% who care, was unplugging, then restarting, the Sonos Boost.


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No escape from reality

Ooh, Buffy‘s on. Could be a nice distraction.

Xander: She fell.
Willow: The flu.
Cordelia: She fainted.
Xander: The flu, fainted and fell. She’s sick, make it better!

Giles: Death and disease are, are things, possibly the *only* things that, that Buffy cannot fight.

Killed by Death

Huh. Well, how about some tunes.

I can’t stay on your life support
There’s a shortage in the switch

I think I’ll get outta here, where I can
Run just as fast as I can
To the middle of nowhere
To the middle of my frustrated fears
And I swear you’re just like a pill
‘Stead of makin’ me better
You keep makin’ me ill

Pink, Just Like a Pill

Jesus.


But hey, y’all, we’re doing all right. Feeling healthy, first of all, which is the main thing. Both still employed full-time, which is certainly something to be grateful for. Managed to get toilet paper this week, which is good, especially since they were all out of Kleenex.

And yes, they had no bananas.

Which leaves me with my final words of wisdom for now: Plantains are not at all the same thing as bananas. Do not put raw plantains in the chocolate cream pie!


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Meet the cats

I’ve actually had them since May. Normally I would have written about them earlier, but it hasn’t been a normal year (emotionally, anyway). A lot of my excessive anxiety and depression centered around them.

The integration wasn’t really smooth. Zoe accepted Mac pretty quickly, but took an instant dislike to Gus, and proceeded to bully him for months. (The fact that she’s half his size didn’t particularly matter.) It wasn’t the funnest experience to go through.

But, things have improved.

Gus

Gus, 2 years old at adoption time, was a cat I inquired about when looking at those available from Pet Patrol (the same rescue organization we got Zoe from 13.5 years ago). But we were warned that he was a very anxious cat, and thought maybe it wouldn’t be the best choice.

Shy he may be, but Gus knew how to sell himself. We went into his room at the shelter to see another cat, but she had no interest in us whatsoever. Gus, however, did. He purred and encouraged us to pet him. Whenever we tried to move away, he pulled out a paw to try to get us to stay. It was terribly endearing.

Shy but so sweet

Once at our house, he initially crowded himself into a cat tree cubby and came out so rarely we were worried. His progress was quite slow, aided not at all, of course, by having a cranky old cat run at him whenever he dared to explore new territory.

But, he did expand his world from the cat tree, to the rest of that room, to the room next door, to the whole upstairs–a long phase, that one–but finally on to the main floor, which is where he now spends most of his time. Only in the past few weeks has he been regularly visiting the family room downstairs, and only this week (8.5 months later) become comfortable enough to plunk himself down and snooze in front of the fireplace there.

From the first, though, he had a fondness for getting pet, and at some point–while still mostly living upstairs–he decided that I was great and became incredibly affectionate toward me, with full-body cuddles and loud purring. Jean took longer (Jean is not the feeder), but now Gus will walk up to him for pets also.

Nah, not going to pose for you, non-feeder

He’s the most gorgeous thing, but it seems he had to learn everything about how to be a pet. (Well, not everything. He’s always been great with the litter and a good eater.) How to play. (All the toys scared him at first.) That he is allowed on furniture. (Still working on that, really, but he much more regularly goes on chairs now.) How to get a human’s attention (and that you might actually want a human to pay attention to you!). How to “stand your ground” against cranky old cats half your size.

Well, we said we wanted him to go on furniture…

We don’t know much about his background. He’d been running around a neighbourhood for some months, outside in winter, before the cat rescue people were able to trap him and bring him to the shelter. And he was there 4 months before we adopted him. I suspect his home before that wasn’t the best-est ever.

Gus has come far, but has more to go. I look forward to seeing the cat he becomes.

Mac

While pondering Gus at the cat shelter (while I was smitten, Jean was dubious), Mac–who had been sleeping–jumped up to greet us with a “Hey, how about me?” attitude.

How could we resist?

Mac was a one-year-old sprite, mostly white with a few black patches. He’d been found stuck in a tree, and when rescued, the volunteer was able to carry him all the way to the shelter; he just stayed calmly in her arms. Mac was a Gus opposite, not only in colour but temperament: bold, unafraid, friendly, adventurous, chatty.

A one-year-old cat is still quite active, making him not really the ideal match for a 15-year-old cat. But as a compromise (?), we ended up with him, too. Despite Gus and Mac’s opposite personalities, they’ve always gotten along with each other. (They were in different rooms at the cat shelter, and only met at our house.)

But Mac was happy to teach Gus all he knew

Naturally, Mac adapted quickly. As already noted, Zoe accepted more quickly and easily than we’d expected–I think she found him kind of entertaining at first. While we were distracted for months trying to get Zoe and Gus to tolerate one another (as they do now), we probably didn’t give Mac quite enough attention. We’re trying to make up for it. (Particularly as Mac will pester Zoe when he’s bored, which she does not find in the least entertaining!)

Ready for action. Always!

Because given his age and temperament, Mac flourishes with a lot of attention. He taught us to play fetch with him (only the second cat I’ve ever had who will bring a ball back). When errant chipmunks came in the house, he proved himself a great hunter. Since winter, he’s had to make do with “hunting” Da Bird wand toys and some nifty animated toys like Hexabugs. I’ve also been training him to get used to going in the carrier, traveling in the car, and being on a leash. He’s proven a quick study on all counts, so he should be able to get outside in the nicer weather in a controlled fashion. (I don’t want him running off, getting stuck up another tree, and winding up somebody else’s pet.)

Mac has caught the Hexabug!

(Yes, he is micro-chipped. Still.)

He’s not as cuddly as you might think, but he is the easiest cat imaginable to pick up, he does sleep with us each night (very politely, down by our feet and not up on our heads), and he loves to rub his white fur all over our clothes, especially if they are dressy. And every once a while he will plunk himself down on your lap for a short sleep.

Showing off his battle scar (it’s really hard to clip Gus’ claws…)

Mac has a fully formed character, but some maturing to do. He’s a very nice boy now; I expect he’ll become a lovely older cat. Maybe even develop some cuddles.


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Touring the province

Originally, our summer vacation was just going to be to Toronto, then Timmins, with one point in between (North Bay). A family canoe trip was planned for the start of the Timmins portion. I wasn’t too keen on that, so I was just going to hang with Dad during that time.

But then, the canoe trip started to get generally low on participants, to the point where it seemed a bit pointless. So Jean and I decided to add a few more points between Toronto and Timmins.

Toronto

Of course, the impetus for this portion was the Queen + Adam Lambert concert that I’ve already written about. The concert was on a Sunday night, but we went to Toronto on Saturday. We traveled by Greyhound (and just for added fun, took the Ion—Waterloo’s new light rail transit—to the Greyhound station). On the way, I grew nostalgic for the days when Greyhound could get you to downtown Toronto in about 90 minutes. Yes, the bus left a bit late, and yes, they’ve added stops, but the main reason it took about 3 hours to get there was traffic. Traffic, traffic, traffic.

So we arrived around 3:00, and we had a 5:00 dinner reservation (because we didn’t book far enough ahead to get a better time). So we high-tailed it to our hotel, the Beverley. There we experienced the world’s slowest elevator ride on the way to the smallest room I’ve ever stayed in, at least in Toronto. But, it was pretty conveniently located to everything we had to get to.

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‘Tranna

And the first of those places was Buca Yorkville, where we had our dinner reservation. It’s pricey, but they’ve never let us down, and with a small exception, they didn’t this time, either. The waiter was helpful at guiding through the menu and in picking a wine.

We started with some oysters and raw salmon, then for mains, I had the risotto and Jean the braised octopus, which was really amazing. My dessert was a hit, but Jean’s, a take-off on tiramisu, was the only misstep of the meal.

Appetizers at Buca
Starters
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Squid; tasted better than it looks
Dessert at Bucca
Less successful dessert

Sunday morning after breakfast we went to the AGO, where we decided to buy their new, cheaper annual pass, which will pay off as long as we go at least once more this year. We first went to Yayoi Kusama’s celebrated Infinity Mirror room where, we were surprised to discover, we were given a grand total of 60 seconds to look around and take photos. Good thing that’s not the only thing we had planned to see!

We also visited a special exhibit on women and photography (as subjects and photographers) and viewed some of the permanent collection of Canadian art.

We followed that with a bit of shopping, at places like Mountain Equipment Co-op, then went for another early dinner. This time it was at Taverna Mercato, an Italian place near the Scotiabank Centre. The food was pretty good, but boy, was it loud—packed to the rafters with a mix of Blue Jays and Queen fans.

Our return trip to Kitchener was by Via Rail. It got us there in less than 90 minutes. (Too bad there are only two Via trains per day.)

Tobermory

We stopped back at home for the car and more luggage (and lunch), then made our way to Tobermory. We hit quite the thunderstorm on the way in to town. It had eased by the time we got there, but it remained a rainy evening. So we skipped walking around and just had dinner—some rather good local fish at Leeside—and watched some TV at the hotel.

Manitoulin Island

We were booked on the early morning ferry, which was punctual, so fortunate that breakfast at Leeside was fast. It was a beautiful day, so once on the island we decided to drive to the Cup and Saucer trail and walk that.

Even at this relatively early time, it was quite a popular destination! We even took a side trail at one point just to ditch some people. But it is a nice walk, and gives you some decent elevations, at least by Ontario standards.

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View from the top of the Cup and Saucer
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Me in my stylin’ hiking clothes (including new hat from MEC)

We then drove to Little Current for some lunch and to check into our hotel. This was the nicest booking of our trip, at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre. Along with a fast elevator and big rooms, they offered beautiful views and a pool that we actually used. We had breakfast at their restaurant, and that wasn’t bad, either. For dinner, we got into a popular little restaurant after a short wait at the bar, and both enjoyed local fish dinners, of trout (me) and white fish (Jean).

Sudbury

It was about a three hours drive from Little Current to Sudbury, where we stayed at the Day’s Inn right by Science North. (This was our fourth hotel in four days, and it was starting to get disorienting.) We had a good lunch at an Italian wine bar, Di Gusto, before taking a walk, then visiting Science North.

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A view of Science North on our walk
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One of the exhibits featured the Body World plastinated bodies
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They also had butterflies

For dinner, we got into the Tommy’s Not Here restaurant. It was quite good. I had one of their specialties, the lamb.

Timmins

We made it to Timmins on Thursday, and our visit was mostly about family. My sister Michelle also arrived this day, with her husband and one son joining the next day. (The other son was working at camp and couldn’t get away.) My other sister was also scheduled to arrive the next day, but her flight ended up cancelled due to mechanical difficulties! That was a bummer all around, especially for her.

The initial event drawing us to Timmins this long weekend were celebrations of my aunt’s 90th birthday. But my Dad thought he would take advantage of the family traveling there to also hold an inurnment ceremony for my Mom’s ashes. That took place on Saturday a morning, a simple ceremony at the cemetery.

Father Pat, Michelle, and Dad with the ashes

Dad then hosted a lunch at the house. He decided to have it catered, which obviously reduced the workload a great deal. The company, Radical Gardens, did a nice job. I think the extended family enjoyed the gathering.

Sarah-Simone, Neal, and Dad with the spread (I’m in the background, there…)

We had a couple more family events that weekend, these ones focused on my aunt Irene, who is a fantastic-looking 90 and still sharp mentally. My uncle Gilles hosted a pot luck / pizza party in his yard Saturday night. He had tarp up in case, but the weather was cooperative in any event. Then there was also slightly more formal afternoon affair on Sunday at the McIntyre Lion’s Den, also catered by Radical Gardens.

In between all that, Jean and I managed to visit with some of his family as well!

The drive back from Timmins seemed interminable, but basically went as well as can be expected on a holiday Monday. Now to figure out where we might go on another little driving trip in the Fall…


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This is my brain on perimenopause

Saturday there was a light dusting of snow on the ground, which is not what you want to see in April. The day was gray and cold. The hopes that spring had sprung were somewhat dashed.

And yet, I felt great–optimistic, even chipper. I had slept well. I was able to focus on my tasks, enjoy my food. Appreciate the comic stylings of Crazy Rich Asians (the film, available from your local library).

What struck me in particular was how long it had been since I’d felt that good. And yet, in terms of what’s going on in my life, there’s no real reason not to feel generally content.

The good feeling must have sensed it was in a foreign host, for it fled in the night. I took a while to fall asleep, than awoke with various worries, at 3:00, 4:00, 5:00. Once up for good, I met a day that was still cool but quite nice and sunny, so I pushed to do things I thought might help. Take a walk in the sun. Play the piano. Listen to my “Get Happy” playlist.

It was in the middle of the song “Happy” (by Pharrel Williams) that I became weepy, overcome by the thought that some injury or illness 10 years hence would interfere with my retirement plans.

For freak’s sake. It’s ridiculous.


I bought a book about menopause. It’s most definitely not happening yet (though I’m pretty excited to have made it all the way to day 29 without a period). But there is this “perimenopausal” stage? And I’m in that.

One of my emotional issues is that I can get fixated on worries about my health. I thought that if I could read about what symptoms I could attribute to a perfectly normal process of aging, that would help. Only then I got worried: what if some of my symptoms can’t be ascribed to that?

So I actually made an appointment with my doctor to discuss any physical changes that I had noticed, just to make sure they didn’t sound like anything bad. (Like endometrial cancer.) Which they didn’t. So, thanks Canadian healthcare system, now I can read my book. (And hey, the itchiness is a symptom of pending menopause! Who knew?)

From the “Moods and you” chapter:

The mood swings associated with menopause often aren’t predictable. One day, you’re laughing with your partner as you make plans for the future. The next day, you’re crying over a greeting card commercial and snapping at your partner over, literally, spilled milk.

Stephanie S. Faubion, MD: The Menopause Solution

(Jean still has a bit of post traumatic stress over my (over)reaction to his crime of eating the last banana. Maybe someday he’ll be able to tell you about it.)

Now, it’s not exactly unknown to me to gets fixated on strange worries–I recall once that a series of stressors led me to somehow get into an emotional spiral whenever the Canadian dollar fell in value. Admittedly, we were about to go to Italy, but it wasn’t exactly a Venezuela (hyper deflation) situation. Plus, we were about to go to Italy! That’s a good thing!

But that was actually a long time ago, and this whole moodiness thing has been happening for months, though sometimes more acutely than others. And it’s not always related to some logical event. Like, McSteamy’s death obviously made me very sad, but that was a normal response, and I didn’t get to wallowing in depression afterward. Instead I’m raging about bananas, worrying about what I’ll do if I have a stroke or something when I’m 72 (and to top it off, my math was all wrong on that worry), and feeling anxious about Jean going away on business for a few days (something I’m pretty used to? And he calls me daily!).

In fact, research suggests that some anxiety symptoms, such as nervousness and worry, occur more frequently during perimopause than at any time before it.

Stephanie S. Faubion, MD: The Menopause Solution

Huh. This is my brain on perimenopause.


And that could go on for years, I guess (seguing into whatever wonders menopause itself brings), so what do I do?

Back to the book.

Which tells me that I’m exhibiting all the symptoms of stress, at least to some degree: Eating less. Lacking focus. Short fuse. Sleep problems. Control issues. Aches and pains. Motivation issues. And those overlap with some depression symptoms. I don’t think I’m full-out depressed yet, but it’s threatening.

The book reminds that exercising regularly is important, something I haven’t been quite as good about as late. And that mindfulness can help, while I haven’t meditated in ages. “Practicing gratitude” is another concept I struggle with. Not that I don’t realize I have many things in my life to be thankful for, but thinking about them doesn’t seem to bring me comfort. Maybe because I don’t think I’ve done much to earn them. Maybe because I then become worried about losing them.

Then there’s the whole “talk to someone” idea. Which I also generally suck at. (They’re my problems. Sharing them with you will make me look weak.) But here I am telling you, anonymous (and not-so-anonymous) blog-reading people. (If you actually scrolled down this far, congratulations!)

But, maybe I should find a group. Maybe I should tell a friend (like, in person). Maybe I should explore cognitive behavioral therapy.

Cause it may be perimenopausal, but it’s the only brain I got.


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McSteamy 2005–2019

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Goodbye, beautiful boy.

We miss your cuddles, the head-butting so powerful it could almost knock you over, the purring that you learned to do, the insistent meowing for attention that you also learned to do, those deep kitten sleeps of yours, your determined hunting of toy mice, your favorite spot in the middle of everything, your appreciation of sunlight and a warm fire, and even your habit of batting anything in your way onto the floor. Zoë is not so sure that she misses you stealing her food.

But we’re all glad that you’re not suffering anymore.

— Cathy, Jean, and Zoë

Doing what one does best!


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A cat’s life

Spring 2007: Our recently adopted tabby-Siamese cross cat has his first ear infection (at least, with us as his owners). Symptoms are a weird smell from his ears and dark discharge. It’s handled with ear drops (that he is not thrilled about).

2008 to 2014: McSteamy continues to periodically get ear infections, with the usual treatment. (That he remains not thrilled about.)

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Our handsome Mr. McSteamy

2015: The vet starts to wonder if McSteamy’s ear infections are due to an allergy. We trial him on this fairly awful food made with “hydrolized chicken”—and the other two cats, who definitely don’t have allergies, have to go along. None of them starve, but there’s absolutely no improvement to McSteamy’s ears, either. Finally an oral antibiotic clears those up.

And the cats return to their previous diet.

2016: The vet notes that McSteamy seems to have ear polyps—small purple growths in the ear canal. “That’s a chronic problem,” he notes, though that McSteamy’s ear issues might be chronic doesn’t seem like news, at this point.

August 2018: We’re away for the weekend. Instead of the usual “Everything went well with the cats” report, the catsitter emails that McSteamy’s eye “has rolled up into his head.”

Huh. That doesn’t sound good.

We get home to find that the inner eyelid on McSteamy’s left eye is staying shut, giving him something of a one-eyed zombie cat look. He seems OK otherwise, though.

“Is your cat missing an eye?” asks one of the guys working on our bathroom renovation.

Our local vet visit diagnoses it as Horner’s syndrome, wherein the pupil of one eye contracts more than the other, making that inner eyelid think it’s time for sleep, or whatever. The cause of Horner’s is varied: It’s a response by the nerve that runs from the eye to the ear and down the chest, and the issue could originate anywhere along it.

But with McSteamy, the guess is an ear problem, and he’s back on ear drops.

September 2018: The drops have improved the situation enough that the left eye is now just slightly more shut than the right, its pupil just slightly more contracted. But the root cause might be those polyps. These are not overly common in cats, and our vet isn’t well equipped to deal with them. She suggests a referral to a specialist—a dermatologist.

There are cat dermatologists? (“Must be a very smart cat!” says a friend.)

There are, albeit not in Waterloo. When I get the referral, I find that I have to drive him to Guelph, home of a Veterinary College, about 45 minutes away.

The doctor, whom I’ll call Dr. S, is very nice, though. He suggests laser surgery to remove the polyps. But first, McSteamy needs to take medication to reduce the swelling as much as possible. And, just in case allergies are involved, he’s put an rabbit food diet. (No, I don’t mean vegetarian—cats are obligate carnivores. I mean rabbit meat cat food. Which is not cheap.)

I mention the ineffectuality of the hydrolized chicken food trial, but Dr. S says that subsequent studies have it’s not always an effective test for cats with chicken allergies.

At least the cats (now we have only two) seem to like the rabbit food.

We remember that we didn’t get an estimate on the cost of the surgery. We ask for one and… Yowsa. And here I thought the rabbit food and consultation was expensive.

October 2018: Due to our vacation and Dr. S being away at conferences, the surgery isn’t scheduled til November 1. The week before it, McSteamy doesn’t seem great. He’s isolating himself more, and seems to have developed a sneeze. Is he even up for surgery?

But it seems hard to back out now.

November 1: McSteamy had to fast Halloween night, and I have to get him to Guelph for 9:00 AM, which means driving there in rush hour. (I’m able to get some time off work for this; Jean is not.) Both cat and human are stressed on arrival.

I’m told that they will call with how it went. But the hours tick by… 10:00, back home; 11:00, no call; 12:00, nothing; 1:00, 2:00, no call, no call… At 2:30 I call them; no answer, leave message. At 2:45 I call again to say that I’m leaving to go pick him up.

On my way, the phone rings. I don’t have hands-free set up, so when possible, I pull over to listen to voice mail. He’s fine, they say. It went well.

On arrival, they apologize for not calling sooner. Short of staff. And also, unexpectedly, the surgery took three hours. Three!

They put me in a waiting room with McSteamy, who’s bouncing around like crazy cat, still under the effect of the painkillers and anesthetic. Dr. S comes in to go over what was done. The surprise was a very large polyp, deep in the left ear. Somewhat complex to remove, apparently.

I’m sent home with pills to give him daily, things to watch out for, and a plan to bring him for a recheck in about 8 weeks.

November 3 to 4: After initially seeming fine, McSteamy is slowing down. Moving very slowly, sleeping a lot (even for him). Is this normal? I resolve to call and ask about it, if he’s not better by mid-week.

November 5: Home from work to find that McSteamy has been bleeding all over the bed he was sleeping on. We clean up his ear, requiring an alarming number of ear wipes to do so.

Excessive bleeding is one of the things to watch for. We take photos and, as it’s after hours, I email the Dr. S’s clinic with what’s been going on.

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That’s a lot of blood…

November 6: McSteamy and I have a ritual: Every morning, he jumps on the bed for a cuddle and purr session. (He’s better at purring than I am.) He’s not Mr. Punctuality, so if I’m already up when he shows up for cuddle time, he insists I get back in bed. Really, not a bad way to start the day.

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It’s so nice, we sometimes do this later in the day as well

But this day, when Jean has to be up early for a work trip, he sees McSteamy start up the stairs for the cuddle… Then give up and head back to his hiding place in the basement.

Uh oh.

I make this a “work from home” day. McSteamy seems miserable. He’s withdrawn, lethargic. I’m thinking he’s dying.

The clinic calls around 10:00 in response to the email. I give the update. They want me to bring him in the next day. In the meantime, he appears to be in pain, so they prescribe opioids, which I can pick up from my local vet. I give him some that evening.

November 7: McSteamy jumps on the bed for a morning cuddle, seeming completely himself. Yay, opioids!

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Terrible picture, but very nice to see him happy that morning!

Jean’s still away, so I’m off to Guelph again. (At least not in rush hour.) On arrival, they take him into the back room. Eventually, the bring him back. “That was much more bleeding than I was expecting.”

But they’ve cleaned him up, and re-cauterized his wounds.

“Can you bring him back Friday?”

November 8 to November 28: With all the trips to and from Guelph, I’ve done more driving this month than I typically do all year. Google seems to suggest a different route each time, so I’m not even really learning the way.

I has to be said, though, that Dr. S has been great, giving up his lunch hours and such, and not charging me for his time, only for materials (and sometimes not even that).

But McSteamy is in a bit of cycle: The wounds heal, dry up, fall into the ear (they call that “necrotic debris”), which gets itchy, so he scratches, thus wounding his ears again. They suggest an e-collar, but I can’t bring myself to make him wear one of those all the time. (How will he eat? How will he groom?)

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Except for this photo op, we didn’t make him wear this

But I’m also fearing he’ll never heal up.

I Google. I find a suggestion: Gluing Soft Claws—little plastic caps—on his back claws. This is no easy task, even with a fairly placid cat like McSteamy, but in the interest of de-stressing his wife, Jean gets it done (while I hold the cat), with tweezers and crazy glue. McSteamy looks pretty cute with his sparkling toes.

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Some other cat in soft claws

These caps are supposed to stay in place for six weeks. I’d say it was more like one week. But, it worked! That seemed just enough time to get the ears to heal.

The visits to Guelph get farther apart. McSteamy seems to be recovering well.

December 6 to 14: Zoë, my other cat, is in for a routine checkup. She seems fine, but she is 14. And the vet notes that she’s been losing weight.

Zoë likes variety, so eating only rabbit meat hasn’t entirely agreed with her. But also, the blood work says, her liver values are “off”. She’s prescribed antibiotics and supplements.

But of course.

I’m expecting more pills, but am handed two liquid antibiotics. When we give the first to Zoë, she starts foaming from the mouth as though poisoned. Then she has to get another. I call the vet.

“Normal”, apparently. Medicine is very bitter, and that’s how cats react to bitter.

She has to get this stuff twice a day, for five days with one, seven with the other (which isn’t quite as bitter but apparently still not a treat).

Oh, and Jean, who was supposed to get a break from work travel in December… Suddenly hHas to go away on work travel. All week.

I am not coping well. But at least Zoë forgives me for poisoning her twice daily. Maybe because, with Dr. S’s blessing, I also expand her food horizons to other low allergen foods: venison, duck, pork, kangaroo (!).

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Zoë will only lie on you if you have a blanket barrier

December 26: Christmas break was excellent, and much needed. On our return, McSteamy seems in great shape, very active and playful and happy to see us. Zoë is also fine; well done her with meds now and enjoying the food variety.

December 27: “Don’t mean to alarm you,” says Jean. “But feel this lump on McSteamy’s jaw.”

December 28: I bring McSteamy to the local vet. She notes that the lump is exactly where a lymph node is, but that none of his other lymph nodes seem affected. She does a needle aspiration to send to the lab. But with the holidays, we won’t get results for four days. McSteamy is put on antiobiotics—just pills, not nasty liquid.

January 4, 2019: McSteamy still seems fine, but the antiobiotics have had no effect on the lump—in fact, it seems to be spreading. The lab results are that it’s a “reactive lymph node”, but what is it reacting to? We see a different vet at the local clinic, who says to consider that this could be cancer. We’d have to get a biopsy done to find out more. That’s an expensive surgical procedure—also painful.

McSteamy has an appointment with Dr. S the following week, but this vet seems doubtful the ear has anything to do with this. She suggests postponing that appointment.

Dr S’s office is closed til Monday, but I email them about the situation and ask if it makes sense to bring him in, and that if not, that we’ll cancel (and give Dr. S his lunch break back).

January 9: We decide against putting McSteamy through another surgical procedure (the biopsy), and instead try upping the dose of the steroid he’s been on since his ear surgery. No reply to my email so I call Dr. S’s office, but I just get the machine.

I don’t bring McSteamy to his appointment.

January 10: By email, I hear from Dr. S’s office, a day late, that it would have been good to bring him in for a check. That’s unfortunate to find out now, I reply. When I get a new appointment?

Not til January 23.

January 11 to 12: McSteamy is slowing down, the swelling spreading. The steroids haven’t really helped; the local vets seem out of ideas. I’m thinking it’s cancer, he’s dying. (The cancer treatment options for cats aren’t great.) We’re wondering how long we can keep him comfortable. Every time I suspect he’s nearing that point, I fall apart.

Just in case, I pick up more cat opioids from the vet. Maybe that will buy more time.

January 13: McSteamy’s behavior on opioids is odd this time. He seems skittish, hyper, confused.

January 14: I talk to the vet. McSteamy seems to be experiencing “euphoria”. Try him on half a dose of the opioid, she suggests. We do, and that’s better, but then we figure… Perhaps he doesn’t need a painkiller at all (yet). True. That is good.

However, now he’s having trouble eating dry food, and he’s starting to lose weight. His left ear has developed a weird smell, and some bleeding, possibly from him scratching at it again.

January 15: Bring both cats to the original vet. Zoë seems great, gaining weight. McSteamy… not so much. The vet doesn’t know what else to suggest. She says she’ll write up a full report for Dr. S, and see what his advice is. She hopes to hear back in a day or two.

Thinking comfort, I ask for ear drops and for high-fat “recovery” can food typically given to sick cats. The drops (which McSteamy remains unimpressed with) do seem to help the ear somewhat, and both cats like the food.

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McSteamy, hanging in there

January 21: No word from Dr. S’s office still, but Jean suggests that I bring McSteamy there anyway. I contact them to confirm the appointment, and they say they haven’t heard from my vet, but will ask her to send the report again.

January 23: Weather is dodgy, so I take an Uber to Guelph. The driver is very friendly; turns out his wife is a catsitter! The driver wants the job of driving me back to Waterloo, but Uber doesn’t make this easy to arrange. We eventually figure it out, and he waits around at the clinic while I take McSteamy in to be seen.

Turns out the local vet did send the report on January 15, but due to a fax malfunction (fax?!?), they didn’t get it until the following week.

McSteamy has lost over 1 kg of weight. And the swelling in his jaw is… significant.

They take him into a back room to scope his ear and do a needle aspiration. The results:

  • There is new polyp in his left ear, where the lymph node reacted.
  • It seems to have caused an abscess (the swelling) that can be treated with an injectable antiobiotic.
  • While not definitive, the needle aspiration showed no sign of cancer.

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Texting Jean from Dr. S’s clinic

January 25 to 27: Planning to be away for the weekend, and I’m beside myself on how to get McSteamy to eat enough given that he’s only eating can food, which dries up quickly once left out. We arrange to leave later on Friday, and get back earlier on Sunday. I hire not one by two catsitters so he can get three visits a day, and I leave them crazy complex instructions on how to encourage eating.

Both catsitters assure me that he eats at every visit.

January 27: Back home, McSteamy’s jaw swelling seems to have shrunk somewhat, though certainly not gone. I Google “Best dry food to get cats to gain weight”. The suggestion is Iams kitten food. High fat, high protein, with little tiny kibbles (“for tiny mouths!”). That might work.

And hey, they sell it at Walmart, which is open Sunday night.

January 28 to February 1: It’s a relief when McSteamy takes to the kitten food (and Zoë likes it, too). I can happily refill their dishes at will, with food that will stay fresh all day. McSteamy still seems awfully thin, but has regained some energy and resumed imperiously walking around the house, meowing for attention.

And continues jumping on the bed for cuddles.

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Zoë, meanwhile, continues to gain weight, and a new blood test shows that her liver values have improved. Who would have thought that a liver condition is so much easier to deal with than ear polyps?

Up next: McSteamy gets a repeat of the injectable antibiotic and an ear treatment next week.

The week after that, another consult with Dr. S. One decision to make: Whether to do more ear surgery, to remove the new polyp.

(What could go wrong…?)


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Advantages to spending Christmas in Timmins

Not everyone comes from an exciting home town, but home it is, and that’s where we typically head for Christmas. Of course, the biggest bonus is getting together with family, since we are now disbursed and rarely all in the same room. (“I really enjoy these leisurely McNair breakfasts, with conversation,” Jean commented, on about day 3. “Doesn’t really happen with my family.” Of course, other good things do happen with his family, I feel I should add!)

My brother and niece unwrapping gifts Christmas

Overall, it was a lovely Christmas, with most everyone up, no travel problems, delicious food, and no one with serious ill issues.

But I also realized there are other benefits to Christmas in Timmins.

Snow

Sometimes it’s only a little snow, sometimes it’s a ridiculous amount of snow, but there’s always snow in Timmins in December! If you live in some beautiful, sunny, and warm part of the world, not having snow at Christmas is not much of a tragedy, despite its traditional association with the season. But in southern Ontario, where we now live, no snow typically means gray, coo, dreary, drizzly weather. It’s just depressing. (And thanks to climate change, it’s what we can expect for one of two Christmases from now on.)

Me in a snowy landscape, full of natural Christmas trees

Taking care of (government) business

This one applies only to those living in Ontario, but… Are the lineups to take your driver’s test just too long in Toronto? Have you been putting off replacing your old red and white health card? If you said yes, then you’re probably related to me.

Having been discouraged by the Toronto crowds, on December 24, my nephew went to the Ministry of Transportation office in Timmins, and passed his driver’s test! Same day, his father went to Services Ontario and got himself a proper photo ID health card. In about five minutes.

Same province, fewer people, faster service!

Shopping!

Of course Southern Ontario has more stores, but is more always better? No running around to different LCBOs to get the wine you want; you just go to the only one there is and make do with what they have. And at the only men’s clothing store downtown, you might just discover, as Jean did, that custom-made shirts are much cheaper there, and that they’ll ship them to your house.

Grosbeaks

The blue jays, cardinals, and eagles we have around here are cool, but dig these red and yellow grosbeaks. (The pileated woodpecker also made an appearance.)

Wherever you were for Christmas, hope you made the best of it. In Timmins this year, that wasn’t hard.