Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Reunion Trip 2017

It was time for my family reunion again. This time instead of asking a friend to look after my cats and then having a disaster in their family cause me to have to scramble at the last minute to find someone else (which is what happened last year) I just paid someone to take care of them.

Surprisingly (to me, anyway) a lot of vet techs do pet-sitting for some extra money on the side. The person doing my cat-sitting had recently retired from being a vet tech in order to be a stay at home mom. She was a bit exhausting to be around (major extrovert!) but I felt my boys would be in good hands. They were.

They weren't happy about my absence, but they didn't go on a hunger strike or anything, so it's all good.

The reunion itself was quite nice. The day before an aunt/married-in uncle combo had a 50th wedding anniversary drop-in. Since there were two family gathering events so close together and my sister (the one that visits me) hadn't been to the reunion in some time, she flew in to attend both and stayed at my cousin G- and A- with my parents and me.

My parents and I drove up on Thursday. I ended up driving the whole way while mom read to us. With the occasional random commentary (not on the book) from my dad. The traffic was dense but only had a few slowdowns, and we got there around 7:30.

Shortly after our arrival I went for a walk to stretch out a bit (driving for over 10 hours can really do a number on your muscles) and discovered the fly in the ointment for this trip: cousin G-'s neighbor's dogs. Last year they'd been in kennels whenever I was out; this time they surged up over the bank onto cousin G-'s driveway and proceeded to behave remarkably as if they were planning to attack the minute I turned my back.

I did not know that a dog could snarl and show teeth at the same time it barked constantly and aggressively at you. Points for multi-tasking, I suppose. I managed to face them down for the ages it took Neighbor to come out on her porch and yell at her dogs to come here (they did not obey very well, but enough that I was able to leave the area).

The problem is, the biggest, most aggressive dog weighed as much as I do (probably more) and was physically the same size as well. Which meant should it knock me down, I stood a good chance of getting killed, or at the least, badly mauled. The truly irritating part was that no one seemed to take this threat seriously. I suppose, though, one really has to be there to observe how aggressively dogs react to my sheer presence to understand. I've had dogs on leashes being walked by their person try to get at me, barking, yanking on the leash, and the person be completely and utterly baffled by the dog's behavior--apologizing to me and saying "he/she's not normally like this." It's like a reverse superpower I have!

To get that part of the tale over with, the dogs were kenneled or indoors the next morning and Saturday morning when I went for a walk, but Sunday morning I encountered them again. At 4 am in the morning, which seemed a bit excessive to me. (I was awake and out because if you want to go on a two hour walk before the sun rises and makes everything bright and hot, you have to get up early).

Bad dog aside, the rest of the trip was well worth it. I got to spend not one, but two nights interacting with my extended family. And because the 50th wedding anniversary couple don't live around here, and their children and grandchildren also don't live around here, we don't normally see them--which means I got to have fun meeting people I don't usually get to interact with.

One of these children's family groups is also a musical group called the Celtic Martins. They played two songs for us; the bouncing dancing (not that we did) kind of celtic music on violins and guitars that I absolutely love. I was, for that short time, in musical heaven.

The morning of the reunion my dad has always gone to "the barn" with his brother C-, and this year my sister and I came along. The barn is a converted barn (thus the name, obviously), which the family has turned into a country-cooking restaurant. We're talking very primitive restaurant here ... which means the food is delicious. I had eggs and bacon on a bagel. First time I've ever liked a bagel. Granted, the one time I ate a bagel before this it was dry and just the bagel. I don't think you're supposed to eat them like that.

Then I went back to bed (I tried to catch up on my sleep this trip, but I was constantly being stymied by the thin walls of the room my airbed was in and the fact that everyone else was logically awake during the day). I did manage some sleep, however--good thing, too, all this socializing!

The reunion started at three, and there were lots of people there. I love lots of family--if I get bored with one conversation, or if it starts going off the rails into uncomfortable territory, I can simply find another conversation to join.

Plus lots of food. My Aunt D- brought a cherry cobbler made from cherries that had been growing on the tree that morning (YUM) and because my uncle C- is also lactose intolerant, she used lactaid milk in the sweet biscuits that go on top of the cobbler. Yeah! A homemade dessert I can eat! (That's the same uncle C- that we had breakfast with.)

Cousin G- pulls around a large tractor (we're talking tires taller than I am) with a wagon and hay bales on the back. Actually, I think they were baled barley that he'd put up the night before. There was going to be a hayride! Lots of the younger people were quite enthusiastic about this concept, and several of the older people (including my parents) joined in.

Me? Are you kidding me? Have you not been paying attention? Fumes from the tractor engine, prickly barley sticking into my skin, too much extra noise to understand anyone's words ... sensory nightmare. No, I stayed put and watched the hayride group trundle off down the lane, glad they could enjoy it even if I couldn't.

There were plenty of people left to talk to. I was outside the large garage where the tables and food had been set up, sitting in a circle of chairs with a group, chatting, when it started to sprinkle. I hate being wet, so I got up, went in the house, retrieved my umbrella, and came back to my chair, umbrella wielded.

There was some gentle ribbing at my expense ... right up until five minutes later when the sky opened up and it went from a sprinkle of rain to buckets. Then I got several comments of, "okay, I guess she does know what she's doing" which, although just as joking as the previous commentary, was rather gratifying to hear.

By the way, the hayride isn't back yet. And there's no roof on it.

I hadn't paid too much attention to who went, but I knew at least one person with a walker had gone. They were all going to be drenched and I felt that they would appreciate the ability to at least pretend to get drier. I ran my idea past my sister (just in case it wasn't appropriate) and she agreed and helped me ransack poor cousin A-'s house for towels.

The hayride was at the farthermost point from the house (of course--Murphy's Luck, right?) when it started to rain so it took them a while to get back, even going as fast as the tractor would go (pretty fast for a tractor). Cousin G- also has a huge garage that isn't connected to the house (we were in the connected one) and he opened that with his remote and drove the whole kit and kaboodle into it.

Holding a tall stack of towels (every towel we could find that wasn't in use) in one hand and my umbrella in the other, I walked through the pouring down rain to the other garage and held out the towels to the soaking wet people descending from the hayride.

My parents, since we were staying at Cousin G-'s house, had the luxury of going upstairs and taking hot showers and changing into dry clothes. Considering my mother's respiratory health, I was quite grateful she didn't have to drive somewhere before doing this, like everybody else.

The reunion is supposed to last until 9, and usually breaks up later than that, but half the people were soaking wet and wanted to go home and dry off, so the reunion broke up early--it was a little after 8, so it wasn't all that early.

The consensus was this would go down in the history books, and we'd be talking about the hayride where it rained for years to come. There were even a few people on the ride who loved being wet and enjoyed that part! (I find this very strange.)

Of course, all the socializing over the weekend was exhausting to my social ability, and by Sunday morning I was fairly well a wreck as far as pretending to be normal went. Good thing we were going home.

I drove the whole way home. There were some stops on the interstate but they didn't last long (thank goodness--my patience was not in good shape). Less than an hour from home it started raining so hard I couldn't see the line markers and (eek) discovered I was running between two lanes. Luckily the traffic was fairly light so I wasn't endangering anyone but I decided to slow down at that point. The problem is always do you slow down, risking getting hit from behind by someone who didn't and can't see you very well due to the heavy rain, or do you keep going and risk hitting someone who did slow down and you can't see them very well due to the heavy rain. Discovering I wasn't seeing the lane markers well enough to stay inside them tipped the balance to "slow down." I did so slowly, of course, as braking in heavy rain is also a good way to start sliding.

But the rain didn't last long. I was grateful, since I didn't particularly want to get my luggage out of the car in the pouring rain.

And then at long last I was home, and making my way through my door into the kitchen, dragging my luggage with me, caroling happily "I'm home!" to the cats.

They were suspicious that it was really me, and I had to talk for a few minutes before they accepted that the sound of my voice over-rode the odd smell I had. (If you stay somewhere else for a few days, you start to smell like that new place. It's not something (most) humans can detect, but a cat is able to.)

Then they were very happy to have me home, and I unpacked as fast as possible to get all the "bad reminders" tucked away to reassure them I wasn't going away again.
The next day I took a nap. My knees are bent between them.
Colby's upside down closest to us while Thimble's on the other side.

Thimble has never done this before.
He blocked the door to the outside so I couldn't leave again!

Colby blocked the hallway: he was a toll cat and
must be paid in petting before I could pass.
And Apricot's been snuggling up against me while I read or watch tv. It's hard to get photos of that since he's tucked up against my hip and kind of behind one arm!

The day after I got back I had to vacuum the house and go for groceries. The cats did not appreciate the going away part and mobbed me when I got back, grocery bags or no grocery bags (usually, the bags deter the mobbing and they wait until I unload everything). 

I took several days off work for after I came back in order to recover. But tomorrow, vacation is over and things go back to normal. The boys aren't going to be happy with that--they just love having me home all the time. Pity ... I love being home all the time with them, too. Until I win the lottery (that I don't play), however, we'll just all have to live with my being a contributing member of society with a job that feeds us and keeps a roof over our heads. 

If anybody knows how to successfully explain that to a cat, I'd love to know.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Cat Behavior Tip

When two cats mirror each other, or mimic each other physically, it means they like each other. Thus you can imagine how it warmed my heart to see this happen the other day:

Notice the almost identical poses (despite the size difference). I'm so glad Apricot is okay with Thimble, since they're both such dominant cats. (Color me surprised: that's not how Apricot acted at the humane society. There he gave me the impression he was more content to be the ... er ... underdog.)

Apricot made friends with Colby first (of course, it's hard to not make friends with Colby. He's a very non-threatening sort of cat who is quite happy being bossed around by the others).

Thimble, however, was a different story. Apricot and Thimble had a lot to work out between them, and Thimble's maturity level wasn't helping.

However they seem to have become fast friends lately. Every night before we start the bedtime routine, I am usually sitting on the floor with them, with my back against the dishwasher door, eating my bedtime snack.

Apricot has started (like for the last month now) coming up to Thimble and asking to have his head washed. He does this by lowering his head to Thimble's face and headbumping him. Thimble is more than happy to wash him. (If you recall, Thimble would wash the world if given half a chance.)

And at some point during the bath, Apricot turns it into a mighty battle. A very lazy mighty battle, I'll grant you. Thimble's happy to do this, too. It's so funny watching Apricot dart around him, like a bee around a large rock, and move in to try to grab a foot or face. Thimble responds with defense, and then occasionally moves to offense, but he stays lying down for the most part while Apricot stays on his feet. Apricot's so much smaller than Thimble that this is the way he feels most comfortable playing with the bigger cat.

Thimble's favorite move is a headlock, but since he's usually on his side, he doesn't have a lot of leverage and Apricot can twist out of it whenever he likes--which is another key to both of them staying happy during a mighty battle.

Colby, meanwhile, is perfectly happy to watch from the sidelines. He's kind of lost his taste for mighty battles, although he does get into them occasionally. He's usually blocking the air conditioner vent which is next to where I'm sitting, located under the sink. (And does anybody know why a kitchen's air conditioner vent is under the sink, where presumably you have to stand to at least rinse the dishes to put them in the dishwasher, and possibly wash the non-dishwasher-safe ones? I mean, why do so many people want to have cold feet that it's a common location?)

Anyway, I'm very happy that they are all three happy together. (Cue song here.)

Thimble is Maturing

My exercise bike is in the tv room with the couch. While I exercise, Thimble usually hangs out on the back of the couch. It's covered in a lavendar blanket much the same color as the walls, but I believe you can still tell what he's on in the photo above.

Anyway, I turn the ceiling fan on high while I exercise for the obvious reasons of me getting hot, and the fan creates a breeze.

Above Thimble you'll notice the bottom of a decorative hand-fan that I have on the wall. (It does actually work if you take it off the wall, but it's delicate and beautiful so I use it as decoration instead.) The breeze makes it move a little.

Yesterday, Thimble noticed. He'd never noticed it before. It was twitching. It was irresistible! He got up and went to grab it.

I sighed and made an "uh uh uh!" (tones going up) sound, which is my way of saying no, don't do that, while I reach for the squirt bottle. Because always before, my voice is not enough to make a determined kitten leave his "toy" alone.

But this time, the first time ever, Thimble subsided down onto the sofa back, gave the (still twitching) fan a longing look, and then lay down and ignored it. All before I could even reach for the squirt bottle!

Did I praise him? You bet your bunnies I did. I told him what a good boy he was and what an excellent boy he was and so on and so forth.

He curled a paw under and happily went to sleep, secure in the knowledge that I approved of his behavior.

My baby boy's growing up!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Chipmunk is Back

When I first moved into this house, with Pippin, there was a chipmunk who discovered that Pippin couldn't get out the porch doors. This chipmunk took great delight in hanging around on the back porch, taunting the cat. Pippin, on his part, took great delight in watching the chipmunk and could sit there for ages just staring at the little scoundrel.

Chipmunk in upper right corner.
 The chipmunk is back. Oh, now, I don't believe it's the same chipmunk. It's been ten years and I don't think they live that long. But I do think it's a descendent who was taught it's safe to sun yourself on the back porch even if there are cat(s) in the window.

In this next picture, the vacuum cleaner is two feet away from him and he's not even noticing. Thimble is terrified of the vacuum cleaner! (He did, however, notice when the cleaner got closer than that, and left in a hurry. Although he was then back as soon as I moved a safe distance away from the lookout spot!)
Chipmunk directly below him, to the left of his paw.
What's odd is that Thimble and Apricot are fascinated as all get out by him. Just like Pippin, they'll watch him for hours, never moving. They'll even be there next to each other without any shoving or domination moves.
Chipmunk watching is a group sport.
Colby couldn't care less about it. Chipmunk shimpmunk. What's the big deal? In all these pictures, Colby is in the living room "with" everyone but he's not bothering with the porch doors, even when there's space for him. Since Colby is the one who reminds me the most of Pippin in his behaviors, I find this very funny.

And it's also nice that Thimble and Apricot have something they can do together.

What Damage is Done All Unknowing

(I know, it's been ages. Oops.)

Last Monday morning I woke up abruptly at 3:30ish in the morning with a searing pain across my cheek and the definite impression someone had just traveled up and over my face.

I got up, knowing that cat scratches always swell up and get all red if I don't wash them out immediately. Stumbled (still half asleep) to the bathroom, washed it out with water (I should have used something stronger but, well, half-asleep, remember), put ointment on it, a kleenex (to keep the ointment off my pillow) and crawled back into bed.

When I got up for real two hours later, I was slightly miffed at the two boys who might have been responsible. (Apricot doesn't sleep on the bed. Also, future examination of the scratch would show that the paw size was too big for him.)

But by the time I got home from work, I had not only realized but internalized that whoever did it hadn't meant to, and being mad at them was stupid and counter-productive. They were both rather apologetic when I got home.

That night I finally actually looked at it in the mirror, and realized that wow, that looks way worse than it feels, and no wonder people had been asking me what happened all day long at work!
Note the lighter scratch above the main one.
That's from a claw on the other side of his paw.
That's how big one Maine Coon paw is!
From what I can figure out, I think it was Colby. He's the one who sleeps up next to my shoulder and would have been in line to leave rapidly across my head. He's also the one who prompted me to want to clip their claws the day before, although (obviously) I had run out of time and hadn't done it. In other words, he had a super sharp claw on the edge of one paw that I already knew about, although they all do a spectacular job of keeping their claws in (when they aren't startled) so it has to get really sharp before I realize they need their claws clipped again).

And Colby often acts guilty when Thimble jumps onto the bed and leaves as though Thimble makes him feel like he's not supposed to be there. (Thimble, bless his heart, is a bit of a bully. I try to ameliorate his behavior but since I'm only home and awake five-six hours a day M-F, it's difficult. And in his defense, he isn't doing it to be mean; he's doing it because he wants me all to himself.)

But by five days later the scab was itching, and it came off yesterday. So it's healing nicely.

And I just clipped everybody's claws, so we shouldn't have a repeat of last Monday again.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Happy Birthday to Me

It's my birthday today, and I've gotten presents I didn't want (snow!) and presents I did (lunch with a friend) and presents I was very much not expecting.

That last is Apricot. You know I've been working on getting him to trust me enough to pet his tummy. I can usually get one pet in before the second pet makes him tense up and leave. That's where we've been in the process for the last year, I think. Every time I see him sprawled so his tummy is exposed, I go over very softly and slowly, saying how lovely his tummy is (and it is, it's a gorgeous plush tummy), and asking if I can pet it, and then (if he's stayed), I pet slowly and carefully so he can see every move I'm going to make before I make it.

Yesterday morning he invited the tummy pet. I petted once. Twice. He didn't tense up. So I kept going.

I got tired before he did! What an honor to be trusted that much by a feral-raised cat. It quite made my day.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

And Then There's the Eating Disorder

It's been a year now, and while plenty of my friends and family suspected, I told relatively few of them what I'm now disclosing. By the way, CAT isn't here (except in a sideways mention) so if you're only here for the cats, you needn't read any further.


At the end of November 2015, I began to suspect I had an eating disorder. I even knew what type, I thought. Binge eating disorder. This is where you eat large amounts of food, beyond the point where you're full, beyond the point where you want any more, and in fact you keep stuffing food into your mouth whether you want it or not.

The loss of personal control is very alarming, and I begin to think I might need to do something about it. But it was only the one time, right?

It happened three more times before the end of December and at that point I thought I really needed to do something.

About that time I came across an app, which allowed you to record your food with great ease, including recipes you made yourself. So being the scientist that I am, I decided to gather data before I made a decision.

After two weeks of gathering data, I realized several things. First, I didn't have binge eating disorder. I had binge/starve eating disorder. And the starving part, all unbeknownst to me, was actually what was triggering the bingeing.

Yes, that's right, I didn't even realize I was starving myself. I thought this was a normal amount of food for someone my size to be eating. I was eating about half of what I should be eating. It's no wonder that I started bingeing. My body was desperate for food.

The other thing I realized, was that I was eating a quarter of the protein that I should. Part of this was due to the fact that I am allergic to chicken, and part of it's due to the fact that meat protein is expensive.

Now that I had data, I needed to do something about it. It was obvious (to me, anyway) that what I needed to do was even out my calories, so that I was eating the same amount each day. This would prevent me from starving or bingeing.

I looked up on the web in multiple places how much I should be eating. Turns out there are two different calculations, but they both came out to about the same amount. I didn't believe either one.

So I set my base calories in the app to 1200. Which is about 300 more than I had been eating on a regular day. This was at the end of January 2016.

Over the next few months, I increase my protein intake. I also had to keep increasing my base calories. Mostly because I kept losing weight. I know that at this point many people would have loved to be in my position, but the fact is, I had lost so much weight that I was getting into the danger zone. I seriously did not need to lose any more.

I finally got my base calories to the point where I was no longer losing weight. Want to guess what it was? The exact amount that has been recommended by the calculations on the web. I guess I should've believed them in the first place.

In addition, because protein is expensive, I decided to try and do something with it: try to gain muscle by getting an exercise bike and using it while I played my video games. This meant that I had to eat more, to compensate for the extra exercise.

The results of this side experiment were absolutely fascinating. For the first time in my life, I actually gained upper body muscle.

I found a really good website, called Eat More to Weigh Less. While I was not trying to lose weight, it really helped me understand how your metabolism works, and the damage I had done to myself by eating so little all those years.

Granted, I hadn't been eating at quite that lower level, all my life. But I had been doing it to some extent and it just got worse in the three years before 2016. A lot worse.

At first, increasing my metabolic rate led to nothing but annoyance. I had to start cutting my fingernails more often. I had to start washing my hair more often, as my head's oil production increased.

And oh my goodness, eating all that food. It takes ages to eat enough food. Unless of course you go to a restaurant and then you can do your entire days' allowance in one meal. However this leaves me hungry for the rest of the day, and I don't exactly appreciate being hungry.

And that was another thing I did not appreciate about increasing my metabolic rate. I started getting hungry again. Apparently, if you eat a small enough amount for a long enough time, your brain turns off your hunger signals.

In addition, remember my social anxiety that results from being around people? It was one of the reasons why I had stopped eating in the first place. I don't get hungry when I'm anxious. I still don't. But there's no way I can eat that much food at night, so I had to start eating at work anyway.

So there were a lot of roadblocks along the way. Including the reactions of other people. Most people did not understand, and thought that my sudden calorie counting was an indication of an eating disorder, not a solution to one.

The few people that I did explain it to, while supportive, still did not fully understand. I believe there was only one person who actually got it.

This made it very difficult to eat while being around other people. Added to that, was the fact that when you start eating twice as much, you start paying twice as much for groceries. Which meant I had less money to go around for say, going to a restaurant.

I tried, for a while. Going out to eat with friends was part of my routine, and being autistic I hate giving up my routines. But it just got too difficult, to watch other people eating what looked like massive amounts of food, when I knew that if I ate that much, I couldn't eat anything else for the day. Add in the judge-y stares from other people and I just gave up.

(I'm not kidding about the restaurant meals. The burger I used to get at Ruby Tuesday's is over 2000 calories. That's without fries or any other kind of side.)

I even got a pressure cooker in July, and started cooking a lot. I had always been a baker, not someone who cooks.

The reason why am writing this post, is that I am a year into this recovery process. I'm more comfortable talking about it, and I wanted to record my progress.

So if you add in my exercise calories, I am now eating over 2000 calories a day. This still seems slightly incredible to me, but I've gotten used to it. I even get a little resentful, if I don't get to eat everything. For example if on a Sunday I don't exercise as much, and watch TV a lot.

I'm finally starting to see good things coming from increasing my metabolic rate. I can function well with less sleep. I'm not quite as cold, usually, although this is still a problem.

And I can carry all three cats in one crate, although I cannot lift it or lower it to the ground. That's over 45 pounds. Never in my life did I think that I would ever be able to lift that much. OK technically I'm still just carrying it, not lifting. But still.

Physically I feel stronger and more able to do things. It's nice to be able to lift stuff, even stuff that doesn't weigh as much is 45 pounds. And not be exhausted.

Emotionally I am still struggling with this whole eating disorder thing. I can still feel the impulse to eat less when I'm stressed, and to eat more when I'm not. This is not a good thing.

It's kind of like being a recovering alcoholic. Other people around you can have that one drink with dinner, but you can't. In my case, that means other people can have that celebratory cake and go a little over their calories and then eat a little less the next day to make up for it. I can't.

I think at this point, that's the hardest thing for other people to understand. I cannot let up on this yet. Maybe someday I will be able to "have that one drink," but not now. Yes, it's been a year since I started "fixing" this, but it's going to take more than a year to fix the habits of a lifetime.