Thursday, August 29, 2013

It Stinks Being an Empty Nester

This past weekend was an emotional one as we moved Kelsey into her dorm at Lyndon State College in Vermont.  A lot of anxiety on Kelsey’s part, employing our abilities to be carriers of heavy objects up three flights of stairs, coaches and cheerleaders, but we got through it.  Now to face the reality of our new role as Empty Nesters.   After twenty-two years of centering my life around those of my children, what to do?

Monday morning.  Jay is scheduled for an umbilical hernia repair at Pequot Medical Center at 6:30 am.  He conveniently waited until after Kelsey’s move-in date.  A minor procedure, one I reminded him that I’ve had done on the occasional kitten at the same time it goes in to be spayed or neutered.  The kittens bounce right back, so a week of sick leave seems like overkill.  Nonetheless, I met the doctors beforehand and was asked if I would be waiting or wanted to be called.  Hmmm.  Would I have enough time to do some necessary grocery shopping, including driving home to put the food away?  The store, the medical center, and our house were all within a ten minute drive.  Absolutely, the nurse told me.
As I rounded the aisles at Stop n’ Shop, it was a bittersweet feeling.  For the first time in two years, I was able to freely select food that had gluten in it.   Both of my children have Celiac Disease so their gluten free diet has changed my approach to shopping and dining.  I splurged and picked up some deli rolls.  I also got a package of tilapia, not because it’s a gluten-containing fish, but because Kelsey is a picky eater.  We now have more options for our dinner table without kids to consider. 
I quickly finished shopping and got home, letting the dogs out for a quick potty break while I put groceries away.  It had been an hour and a half since I’d left my husband in his johnnie and paper shower cap so I figured I had just enough time to get back.  The nurse called then and said Jay was just getting out, take my time.  I said I’d be there in ten minutes. 
I called the dogs, but they seemed to have disappeared.  I figured our Golden Oldie Chardonnay was trolling for treasures (chicken poop) and went outside to find them.  I didn’t see the dogs, but I smelled a distinct aroma…of skunk.  I heard our energetic young mutt Cory barking down the driveway by the stone wall and I knew.  We were skunked.
It’s never convenient for your dogs to challenge a skunk, but when you’re trying to get back to the medical center, you don’t have time to deal with two stinky dogs.  This is the first I’ve ever had to deal with a skunked dog and I did what most people would do…I freaked.  All I knew was that I needed to leave, but what to do with the dogs?  Cory was rubbing her face on the door mat, her muzzle covered in a path of slobber from the irritating spray.  There was no doubt she’d been sprayed head on.  I wiped her eyes with a wet paper towel and put her in her crate.  At least that should keep the little instigator from contaminating anything else, I thought.  Chardonnay didn’t seem to have taken a direct hit.  I don’t have a crate for her anyway so I had to take my chances. 
Remembering the nurse telling me to take my time, I figured I’d use an extra 15 minutes to visit Pet Supplies Plus for some magic skunk odor remover rather than drag Jay with me in a drugged-up state.  I got there right as the doors were opening, desperation in my eyes, skunk smell on my clothes.  They were out of de-skunker.  Now I not only felt rushed, but I was irritated with the world.   Everyone was in my way, the lights were all red, and I stank.  My car stank.  Obviously, one can be victimized by a skunk just by walking through the invisible mist they leave floating in the air.  I received a text from Kelsey, letting me know that she needed me to mail her bobby-pins (the good kind), tank tops, her hair dryer and an assortment of other needs.  I took a moment to tell her to get a ride with her roommate and go shopping for herself.
I was so distracted by my skunk thoughts, that I missed the turn for the medical center and didn’t realize it until a couple of miles later.  My exasperation screamed as I turned the car around.  I’ve only been to Pequot a million times (usually for Kelsey), so how could I miss it?  Once there, I was escorted back to my groggy husband who was holding an ice pack to his belly.  He looked up as I walked in.  “I smell skunk.” 
“Funny thing happened while you were in surgery.”
The nurse helped Jay into our van and poked her head in.  “Oh yeah, I can smell it.”
As I pulled into our driveway, Tyler called, panicking because he thought his student loan was still messed up.  Not a good time.  It’ll be okay.  Whatever happened to not having to deal with children?
After I got Jay upstairs and settled into bed, I set back out in search of de-skunking solution.  Petco was also out; not a good sign when the manager said he’s been trying to get more in for two weeks.  PetSmart, my third attempt, had two bottles of Natures Miracle De-skunker left.  I bought both.
I tied the dogs out and covered them in the solution, roughly scrubbing Cory and lecturing her that maybe the shivering cold well water from the hose would teach her to leave pretty black and white rodents alone.  After the baths, my back was killing me and my jeans were soaked, but I was relieved to find that at least the de-skunker solution worked.   The dogs didn’t even smell doggy.
Next, I had to tackle the smell in the house, but it was hard to tell what part of that came from my own clothes and what was from a dog touching various surfaces.  I left my clothes outside as the washing machine was already occupied by the dog bed and the door mat, mopping the floor in my skivvies wherever the dogs’ path had crossed.  I even used the Nature’s Miracle on the back door and my purse.   After I finally showered, I was able to breathe more freely.
From the bed, Jay expressed feeble remorse that he wasn’t able to help me bathe the dogs and de-stink the house.  I was so taking his Percocet with a shot of vodka after this. 

Coraline the Skunk Hunter

Friday, August 9, 2013

Photo Op

In the cat fancy, there are also cat photographers.  Yes, professional photographers who make a living by specializing in cat photography.  The big names have their signature emblazoned on the award winning cats of the year and published in cat magazines, books, our websites and at award shows (again, for cats).  Most of the photos are taken at cat shows, where a photographer is provided with a separate room or area where he or she can line up feline models of all ages and breeds throughout the weekend.   The good ones bring an array of toys and techniques to entice and relax the cat enough to show off its best side.

Tetsu Yamazaki and his wife, Hiroko, first visited our home about nine years ago.  I had signed up for a home visit while at a cat show where they were working.  The home photo sessions are free, with the cat owners signing away the rights to whatever pictures Tetsu may sell to publications.  Although he works in the cat show venue, Tetsu figured out decades ago that cats were more relaxed having their photos taken in the comfort of their own home. 

I had sold Tetsu on the idea of coming to my house with the litter of five-week-old kittens I had, the first litter out of the cat from my first breeding, Ginger.  The theme of that litter was food; Popcorn, Macaroni, Pumpkin, Peppercorn and Cinnamon were the kittens' call names.  At that time, Hiroko was trying out a new digital camera she had on some of the other creatures of the house; mainly our dog, Chardonnay, and my son Tyler's bearded dragons. Tetsu was using 35 mm film back then and went through countless rolls.  I had recently watched the movie Lost in Translation and was reminded of it often that day.  Being Japanese natives, our visitors spoke limited English.  Still, their English was way better than my Japanese (and my Spanish, French, German, etc.).

Kitten photo session.  The boys were getting sleepy, but Peppercorn (left) just kept going.
After the kittens were worn out and the photo session was over, the Yamazaki's were leaving and Tetsu spotted my husband tying fishing flies, an obsession he has.  "Ah, you fly fish?" Tetsu asked.  Well, that started a whole different kind of conversation.  Tetsu had a hand-held translater so he could tell Jay the Japanese word for trout, striper and other fish-related lingo.  They left with a promise from Jay to take him fly-fishing the next time he was in the area.

Several months later after this first Tetsu photo session, I received a magazine cover in the mail.  The cover text was in Japanese with Cat Catalog written in English at the top.  The kitten pictured on the cover looked familiar.  Peppercorn!  My kitten was a cover girl!  The rest of the litter appeared in the magazine and I've since seen their pictures in Cat Fancy Magazine for their special Maine Coon issue (in which yours truly was also interviewed for an article).  I floated for a good long time, feeling pretty important that my kittens were published internationally. 

My Cover Girl
I recently received an email from Tetsu, advising me that he would be visiting cat breeders' homes in the Northeast and would I like for him to photograph my cats?  Of course, and be prepared to fish I told him.  Naturally, the day Tetsu and Hiroko came was the hottest day of the year, 95 degrees with steaming humidity.  They were relieved to find our house is air-conditioned.  Since Tetsu and Hiroko's last visit, the dog has become grey and arthritic with age and the bearded dragons have found a new home.  Ginger and the kittens have gone on but I have hung onto the kittens' grandmother, Sassy.

I have a litter of five kittens who are distant cousins to my kittens from before.  Sassy is their great-great grandmother.  Hiroko was impressed with the "old cat" so Sassy got her own photo session this time.  Olivia, my feral-looking brown tabby and her four-month-old kittens (two I'm keeping, two are still waiting on their owner to move into her new house so she can claim them) also had their respective chances to look cute for Tetsu's lens. 

Tetsu(foreground) and Hiroko photograph Tippet's litter
After a couple of hours of this, I invited them outside to look at our chickens.  More pictures, especially of Aslan, our magnificent Cochin rooster.  Hiroko recognized the word Cochin as it originally hails from China.  She was enthralled with the two silky hens, also a Chinese breed.  I picked up Buffy, the Buff Orpington hen, because she's an attention seeker and handed her to Hiroko.  Her face beamed; her first time holding a chicken she said.  What a wonderful opportunity I'm giving Hiroko, I thought.  Then I remembered that I don't think I ever held a chicken until I got my own backyard flock. 

We packed up the van and headed out to the Westbrook Fishing Club, where Jay's go-to pond lies.  It was late afternoon, still hotter than hell.  I felt pessimistic that the only fish we'd catch would already be fried.  Tetsu set up his fly rod and Hiroko's fishing pole, literally a 15-foot wooden pole, no reel, just a line and a fly that Jay gave him to try. 

Hiroko caught in excess of 15 fish on her wooden pole, one after another.  Jay and Tetsu did okay too, but I could tell Hiroko was very proud of besting the boys.  Watching our husbands pose with their catch for a picture, Hiroko remarked, "They look like little boys."  And they do.  I posted a few pictures on Facebook, in awe that we were hanging out with such a world renowned photographer (I know it's not Annie Leibovitz, but I live in a small, secluded world with paws and litter boxes).  The fish caught were just small sunfish as the bigger guys have to hunker down in colder deep water during the heat of the summer for survival. 

Tetsu and Jay

The most rewarding part was watching Hiroko.  She squealed with excitement everytime she caught one, chasing it around on the bridge with her hands so she could release it back to the water.  She had said that she and Tetsu traveled to the States many times over the past 30 years, but this was the first time they'd been fishing here.  After our guests and the fish were tired, Hiroko smiled and proclaimed it had been a good day. 
Hiroko poses with her first catch of many