You've Got to be Kidding!

Dark Days-To the Light

Thursday I met the Neurologist. MRI was fine, but he wanted me to take a drug that might make me suicidal!...As if I wasn’t already! I filled the prescription, but figured now wasn’t the time to try taking it.

I borrowed an air mattress from my friend, Erich. The idea was to put the mattress next to the fireplace. Maybe we could keep warm that way? I went to the warming center, as I had done each day prior. I was getting into a routine, making sure we had water for flushing, finding a way to keep sort of clean, getting the cats fed. We had to stop feeding the raw food. The meat was spoiling, even though I filled the fridge with bags of ice. I was able to find a pet food store that was open, so we were okay there. The latest rumors had the power going back on in two more days. We just had to push through.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. A cozy, bouncy bed by the fire.

It was a tough day. We HAD to clean ALL the food out of the refrigerator and freezer and take it to a special location to get rid of it. Sam and I hated throwing out good food. We decided to throw out certain things, but others we decided to toss over the deck, into the woods. At least the wild animals would get something to eat.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Goodbye food.

I stood on the deck, a deep frown etched across my face, I tossed 10 POUNDS of raw ground meat out into the woods. As Sam and I discarded more food, we both grew more and more upset. Goodbye to the meatloaf leftovers that were going to be used for a second dinner. Goodbye to the big turkey breast we were going to roast and use for a few meals. Goodbye to all that cat food—and all the wonderful frozen goodies we got from Trader Joe’s the day before the storm. We filled up Sam’s car with bags of discarded, spoiling food. What was left; a few bottles of very old champagne I refused to throw away and a container of lemonade. The inside of the fridge looked like someone got murdered inside it. The cat food meat had dripped blood all over the shelves and dripped into the drawers. It was going to be a big chore to get it cleaned ONCE the POWER WAS RESTORED!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Loaded up with spoiled food. Off to the dump.

There was more news about the power restoration. CL&P’s response to the storm damage was slow because they FAILED TO PAY the many utility crews that came up to fix the damage after Hurricane Irene hit! No WONDER repairs were going so slowly! They had to find other utility crews to help out and many were from much further away. Also, the out-of-state crews couldn’t do a THING unless someone from CL&P signed off on what they were going to do, first. They were protecting their ass-big time. I heard of one crew just sitting around for FIVE HOURS while they waited for the CL&P staff to show up—the whole time that crew was getting paid for not working!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.

Then, more bad news. The news reported that restoration might take until WEDNESDAY, a full TEN DAYS after the storm. At that point I was so worn down I didn’t care. The snow was just about gone. Tree crews were opening up roads. Downtown Newtown had power. Then some districts got power. Everywhere I went people were asking each other if they had power yet. You could tell the “haves” from the “have-nots” by the gleam in their eye and their not-so-train-wrecked-hair. Our road wasn’t even open yet, so I figured it was going to be Wednesday before we were restored.

By Thursday night we were flat out exhausted from constantly having to drive somewhere to get warm, to get water, to get a meal, to charge a phone, to get something to burn in the fireplace. Anne and her family got dinner early, forgetting we were coming over. It was a blessing in disguise because we just wanted to eat and go to bed.

Although we don’t normally go out for dinner, let alone to an expensive restaurant, I told Sam I was desperate to break our miserable routine of eating lousy chinese food and pizza and have something great for dinner. Juice boxes weren’t cutting it any more. We found a place and served delicious seafood. Although we looked like a homeless couple that hit the lottery, as we sipped Pellegrino in the amber-lit room, we were content. I was surprised at how doing something “normal” helped condition my frayed nerves. Sam and I were getting along all right. We went home and inflated the air mattress. The cats loved it. I warned Sam not to leave it unattended. I knew the cats would pee on it. I couldn’t sleep on the mattress. It was really bouncy and I can’t sleep if the room is brightly lit-like by a FIRE. I opted to drag my butt to bed. Sam got the mattress by the fire. I was numb to the routine of sleeping alone in my hat, gloves and layers, so it was fine with me.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Scallops, risotto and broccoli rabe.

Friday morning. Day seven. We got the cats fed. Sam and I were quiet around each other. I was trying to be calm, not freak out over the way the house was getting dirty and that the rugs needed vacuuming. I looked over at the air mattress and noticed a huge dark spot on the down comforter. Pee. I told Sam to put that mattress away and now it’s been soiled. I tried to hold my tongue, because I usually never say; “I told you so!” But I was worn down so I blurted it out, then added now we'd have to buy a NEW air mattress for Erich! Great! I was so angry. I was not paying for this error! I’d priced air mattresses before we found one to borrow and they were well into the hundreds of dollars! Just what we needed—more headaches.

We drove to the Library since they were open again and had wifi, too. I went online and curtly told Sam I found a replacement mattress and all he had to do was order it. Thankfully it was the exact same one that was ruined and it cost under $100. One problem solved, but the problem of our inability to get along, remained.

I really wanted to write my blog, but I just couldn’t concentrate. It was too awkward to write on my iPad, so I took out pen and paper and scribbled some thoughts down as best I could. I was so wiped out. I really needed to do laundry and get clean again. The local laundromat was going to open soon, so that was great news. My dear friend, Connie called me and she had power restored. She lives a mile from my house, but every time she has power, we lose it and vice versa, so we must be on a different grid. She said we could shower at her house and watch TV. I was happy to imagine I could be clean soon. For someone who watches as much TV as I do, that was something I wasn’t missing.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. I love you guys from Ameren, Missouri!

It was another sunny day. I was so grateful for that. The sun felt good on my face. Sam and I packed up to go to Connie’s house. We decided to check to see if our road was open yet. To our surprise we saw three utility trucks from Ameren, a power company based in MISSOURI! I should have asked them when they were going to be done, but I was so shocked and happy to see them that I just smiled and waved as we passed by. I figured we wouldn’t get power for another day, which was well ahead of the Wednesday deadline, yet I’d been so disappointed with everything else that I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

We got to Connie’s and visited with her kitties, a few of them were cats I rescued from the south. It was good to see them again, but weird to be there without Connie around.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.

We took showers and were getting the wifi working when my phone rang. It was my neighbor, Dawn. She said she wasn’t home, but that a neighbor called her and said the POWER HAD BEEN RESTORED!

What? You’re kidding?!!

Sam and I stopped what we were doing and got packed up and out of Connie’s house in a flash. I was bouncing in my seat in the car. Sam couldn’t drive fast enough. It was still light out so it was tough to see if any electric lights were on. We’d been crushed days before because we drove home and saw lights on in the homes just a few doors down from ours, but our lights were still out.

As Sam pulled down the driveway, I saw lights on in the house!

As I opened the front door, I felt WARM kiss of heat on my cheeks. The heat was ON! The cats were milling around excitedly. They knew something was going on, too.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Crews picking up tree debris down the road from our house.

We turned off unneeded lights, turned up the heat, then got straight to work cleaning. We each chose chores to do. Sam started on cleaning the fridge. I said I’d join him after I did a few other things. I scrubbed the toilets, started doing a ton of laundry, vacuumed, took down all the candles and cleaned up the fallen bits of wax. I closed the doors to the fireplace, making certain to close the flue. We got the dishwasher started. I put away all the paper plates and cups and warmed up some food for the cats. I was so very happy to be cleaning! Yes me, happy, CLEANING!

It took a few HOURS to scrub down the fridge. Sam and I worked together. While we were cleaning, Sam said he could fix a few things. He asked if I wanted him to take the ice maker out of the inside of the freezer. I never had it hooked up to the water line because I didn’t want to hear the device running all night. It just took up space. I had no idea you could remove it! Sam removed a few screws and the unit popped right out. Without it we added a lot of freezer space. Once we cleaned the inside, we pulled the fridge away from the wall. I vacuumed it out, then mopped the floor. We wiped down the outside of the fridge and restacked cans of cat food on the top of it.

Sam stood with the door open to the refrigerator compartment. Even though the thing was old, it looked like it has a new lease on life. Sam was clearly admiring his work. He remarked he didn’t want to put anything back inside it again. I agreed that I never wanted to overload it again as we had before. I wanted to use what we bought and not buy so much we don’t know or use what we have. We went back to Trader Joe’s and did a modest amount of shopping. We got some milk and butter and juice and eggs. Even with all that the fridge still looked empty. That’s fine by me. We don’t need so much.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Pretty!

The cable was out for another two days. It came back on just in time for the good Sunday night shows on HBO and Showtime. Our wireless wifi was working, but I had no interest in turning on my computer—gone was my addiction to checking Facebook every 10 seconds. I dragged my feet. I didn't want to be hooked on technology's teat any more.

I was shell shocked and still very tired. I had liked the quiet evenings, just reading by the fire. I liked something about not having all these electronic devices to cling to. If we’d had heat and running water it would have been a vacation of sorts, well, I guess as about close to a vacation as I’m going to get any time soon.

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The power’s been on for ten days now. I’m not wearing a hat inside my house, just a sweater over my clothes. The cats just ate some newly prepared raw food for dinner. I had a cup of very fine tea this morning. Sam and I are not getting along very well and my engagement ring is back in its’ box, this time stored in Sam’s underwear drawer. I don’t even know if he realizes it’s there. I didn’t know what to do with it, but I thought we better table the idea of ever getting married. It seems the power went out of our relationship and I don’t know when it will be restored.

It’s difficult to write about my relationship going sour. I try not to color it by my own perspective. I know I’m not easy to live with and have a bad temper. I think I should be a crazy cat lady and not live with other humans. Maybe I’m a feral human? Maybe I was driven to it by the stress I’ve been under for the past few years? I can’t say for sure, but when the power went out, it felt like a final straw. I can’t live the way I lived before. I don’t know what’s next. I was glad to have a break from having to worry about paying the mortgage even though it meant I was freezing cold and dirty and subsisting on fruit cups.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Spencer caught a mild cold, but is doing well today.

I'll never forget that awful week without power thanks to Winter Storm Alfred and CL&Ps flaccid response to repairing the power outage and foolish power grid that has our power lines be ABOVE ground (ridiculous!-the lines in my neighborhood are buried).

I hope, in time, I’ll figure out ways to be better prepared for the next storm; including the one that twists inside my heart. It makes me sad that Sam and I sweat the small stuff and it gets to us as it does. I wish we knew how to laugh in the face of adversity or at least hold each other through the worst of it—but even the mighty oak falls if the winds are just right.

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Dark Days-Days Two to Four

The next morning I woke up, covered in cats. I didn’t sleep well. It was difficult to move under the covers with all the extra clothes I was wearing. I kept getting caught up in the sheets. The cats pinned my legs down. Some time during the night I had yanked off my hat, desperate to be more comfortable. My head got so cold I had the bedding up over my head. I had weird dreams when I did sleep. Though I would have been woken up by the power coming back on, I still hoped that maybe I slept through it and it was already working. No. It was too quiet.

I couldn’t see my breath, but it was very cold in the bedroom. I looked at the thermometer on Sam’s battery powered clock. It read 48°F. I realized I needed to pee. I didn’t want to get out from under the covers. “This is why they had bed pans back in the day,” I thought to myself.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Blitz and the DOOD investigating a bucket of snow I was trying to melt in the sun so I could use the water for flushing, later.

I normally don’t write (too much) about sitting on a toilet, but I have to include the detail that sitting down on the toilet was like sitting on an iceberg. I shivered as I peed and I thought about trying not to do anything else into the toilet. Then I started to wonder how I was going to get along. I’m not a camper. My idea of “roughing it” is staying in a hotel with no room service. After I peed, I wanted to wash my hands, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have baby wipes, but I did have bleach wipes so I reluctantly used one of those. I could feel all the moisture in my skin start to evaporate from the chemicals, but my hands were clean.

But what about the rest of my body, how was I going to clean that?

I got some paper towels and thankfully we had bottled water. I washed myself with the cold water in the cold house…oh it was terrible. I certainly was inspired to get dressed, and quickly. I left my hair in an ever increasingly awful looking braid. At least it got my hair out of the way. I kept my cat hat on while I changed into fresh clothes. I was glad I’d done laundry recently, but knew I’d have to wear a few things for a few days in a row to make the most of what I had. No. Undies are always clean! That is not a compromise I’m going to make.

Getting something to eat was also going to be a problem. I couldn’t heat anything and I did not want to even OPEN the refrigerator, as keeping the contents cold was vital. I feed my cats a raw meat diet and there was hundreds of dollars of meat in the fridge that was starting to spoil. If I was going to open that door, I had to plan what I was going to grab beforehand to minimize the air loss. I got some juice, some butter to add to some bread and the raw food. I would have to serve it cold, but it was still good. The poor foster kittens would have to eat cold canned food. I usually warm it in the microwave. Yes, they’re spoiled I suppose, but eating COLD food in a COLD room just seemed like another slight in an otherwise lousy existence.

I had some juice and bread and butter. Even though I probably could have sorted out something better to eat I was in this sort of trance, maybe I was shell-shocked from what was going on? I found that I was just subsisting, alive but not living. It bothered me that the power going out would effect me so badly.

I kept thinking about what I was going to do. Everything seemed to take a lot longer to do-even simple things like keeping things clean. I couldn’t use any dishes because they couldn’t be cleaned and the dishwasher was full of dirty dishes. We’d have to feed the cats on paper plates and it would be a good idea if we had a supply of paper plates, plastic utensils and more paper towels and paper cups so we wouldn’t have to wash anything. I started devising a plan of action. It made me feel a bit better.

Sam and I weren’t talking. No surprise. He did, however run his car up and down the driveway a few times, which packed the snow down enough so I could probably get out. The roads were getting plowed, but there were reports that many roads were blocked by downed trees. The outage report on CL&Ps web site was still showing Newtown was 99% out. Why wasn’t anything improving? Surely if we didn’t have power, someone did, but our neighbors in Monroe, Bethel and Brookfield were just as bad off.

I put together a list. I tried to think of things that didn’t need to be warmed that we could eat. I could have just gotten things for myself, but I didn’t want to make the situation worse. I’d make sure I had enough for Sam.

Sam left home to take shelter at a client’s office where he was going to work for the day. They had light and heat and all that good stuff. It was about 20 miles away. I got to suck it up at home.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Proceed with caution!

I left shortly after he did and was just able to get out of the driveway. My first stop was to try to get gas. There was nothing in town that was open. I knew there was a little known gas station in a nearby town, so I decided to try that first, but getting there was going to be difficult. I couldn’t even get down my street. It was blocked by fallen trees and downed wires. Thankfully we have a second road that gets us out of our neighborhood. I shudder to think what would have become of us if we hadn’t been able to get out at all.

A large sycamore was leaning over the road that was the alternate way to get out of the neighborhood; looking like it was going to crash onto the next car that drove under it. It was just a matter of time before we were trapped in the neighborhood.

The state road near my home was open, but as I drove along it looked like a war zone. The carcasses of dead trees, recently cut up and partly shoved off the road and onto the shoulder, were everywhere. Some trees leaned on the power poles or onto the wires. There were no signs warning drivers. Clearly there wasn’t time to mark every dangerous area. I had to go very slowly and be ready to stop the car at any second to drive around debris or turn around and try taking another road to get to my destination. I tried to remember if it was safe to drive over a downed power line if there was power in the line. Rubber tires? Was that safe? Better not take a chance.

I felt such dread. All those lovely trees broken and bent, the shock of white jagged splintered limbs everywhere I looked. I told myself that if the Lone Oak was gone that it would be too much to bear. In Newtown, we lay claim to the second largest oak tree in the state. It’s about 19 feet in diameter and has marvelous twisted, gnarled branches; a perfect “Halloween” shaped tree. It’s on Lone Oak Road, so aptly named. I drove past the street and looked for the tree. To my relief, it was still there, but a much smaller tree next to it had fallen over. I felt bad about the small tree, but also gained flicker of hope, seeing that grand tree still standing.

I had to drive under power lines and fallen trees, but I got to the gas station. There were a line of cars waiting but I didn’t have to wait too long, maybe 15 minutes or so. They were out of the grade of gas I wanted, but they had gas so I filled up. As I left I saw a line stretching out down the road. I must have just gotten there in time. I felt a bit like a warrior. I was able to provide something for myself.

I was fairly sure the grocery store nearby was open, too. Turns out it was. I assumed the shelves would be bare, but I wasn’t going to buy anything to cook, anyway. I was just hoping for some baby wipes and things like applesauce and paper towels. I knew they had 7-day burning shrine candles and I wanted to load up on those, too.

What really shocked me was how EMPTY the store was-not of products but of people! Where were the people? There were plenty of items and I had no problem filling up my cart with what I needed. I didn’t take every last one of something, but I did take enough so we had at least enough for the next few days. I was sure the power would be back on soon, right?

It was so nice, so normal to walk around the store. The lights were bright. The happy-buy-something-music was playing on the loudspeakers. I was WARM. It was like nothing bad had happened. We were all going to be fine as long as I didn’t leave the store. Maybe I could sleep in the produce section if I brought my own sleeping bag?

I was STARVING. Where could I get some nice WARM food?

I decided to go on a little expedition; suss out what was open and what was closed. I drove no further than a mile and the power was out and the traffic backed up because the traffic lights were out. The place I wanted to have breakfast at was closed. I know this sounds like I’m a big baby and I guess I am, but I really like to have an egg for breakfast every morning. It’s just a thing I do for myself. I change it up every day-add different ingredients; make it fun. I needed my egg sandwich. Boohoo! I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d lost and when I could get it back again.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. If I saw the person driving this van I might have smacked him/her. Yeah, this is our power company-not at work.

I drove further and found a shopping center that was open. They had a..dare I say..McDonald’s. It’s a place I usually avoid like the plague. I would almost rather not eat than eat there, but these were tough times. Nothing else was open in the area. Fortunately, I had cash because that’s all they were taking. The place was packed. I couldn’t get breakfast. It was too late. I didn’t know when I was going to eat again so I got two hamburgers and wolfed them down sitting in my car. The restaurant was warm, but it was crowded and seemed dirty. Eating in my car wasn’t much better, but at least I was away from all those people. It was a dreadful experience. I really wanted a hot cup of tea, but had no idea where to even get one. No. Don’t suggest McDonald’s. That is not tea, even if they have it.

I had heard our town was opening a “warming center” where we could get wifi and to, no surprise, get warm, so I decided to head over there after I went home and unloaded the groceries. By the time I got home I had a terrible stomach ache from the crummy hamburgers. The last thing I needed was to have the runs when I can’t flush the toilet. Nice, right? What could I do? I did what I had to do, then walked to the kitchen, lifted the 40 pound water jug and poured some water into a bucket. I poured the water into the toilet and tried to flush. It didn’t do a great job, but it made using it again tolerable. All the lifting made me cramp up again. I’d have to go easy on the water or I’d be out soon…but it was too late for that and within a few minutes I used up all the flushing water.

The town also opened up a place to get more water (thank GOD), since most of us are on well water and with no power, the pumps don’t work) so I drove over to the fire department. I brought them a box of donuts as a thank you that were not very well received. I don’t know why the fireman was short with me. He took the box and walked off saying a curt; “thanks.” I was just trying to be friendly.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.

A few minutes later I saw him eating a donut as I began filling up my used water cooler bottles. The guy finished eating and came back over to help me lift the filled containers into my car. He was probably having a bad day, too. He said something about being up for 2 days straight due to all the calls they were getting. I felt bad for him.

I was very proud of myself for rigging up a way to keep the water from spilling all over the inside of my car after I filled up the containers. I used a cut up gallon ziplock bag and some big rubber bands. It worked out all right. See? I can take care of things. I’m driving to get water to flush the toilet! The amount of water I have teeter-tottering on the floor behind the front seats will let me flush TWO TIMES. That’s it. What a pain in the neck. How am I going to have time to get anything “normal” done?

I got to the warming center. The second I walked in the door of our new Town Hall I finally felt like all the taxes I pay went to something worthwhile. The building was large, well lit, clean. They let us use a chamber room for doing computing stuff. It was warm, so warm my face turned bright red. I guess I looked like a drunk, but I was warm and the wifi worked well. My stomach was still acting up, but this time I got to use the bathroom at the Town Hall. It was SO NICE, so CLEAN. Just to flush the toilet and WASH MY HANDS in water…WARM WATER was pure delight. In that moment I was revived, but the feeling wasn’t long lasting, especially after I took at look at my reflection in the mirror. I looked ghastly. My skin is already pale, but I was blue. My hair was a mess from wearing my cat-head-shaped hat. I had rings under my eyes. My layered frenzy of clothes made me look like I was homeless.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Council Chambers/Warming Room.

Because I’m a graphic designer, I have a big workstation instead of a laptop. ALL my projects, my blog posts, my photos are on that computer. There was NO WAY I could access any of the data, unless I lugged a 50 pound machine to the Town Hall. I don’t HAVE a laptop, but I do have an iPad. It wasn’t easy, but I got some of my email to work and went online to find out what was going on. Our First Selectman, Pat Llyodra came into the room to see how everyone was doing. Hoa Nguyen, a reporter from the Newtown Patch, brought us some pizza! She did it “just because.” Another lady came in with homemade cookies. It wasn’t a big deal to them, but it was a big deal to us.

Thankfully, the sun was out and because my house is “passive solar,” it faces due south in the winter. The large windows at the front of the house allow the sun to warm the place up. At least I didn’t feel guilty leaving the cats alone during part of the day. They’d be somewhat comfortable, but those same windows would let all the heat out when the sun went down. Now that I had baked myself to a crisp at the “broiling” center, I decided to go home and try to get something, anything done.

I cleaned a chunk of my office, which is in terrible disarray. It’s a small room that competes as where I run both my design business and my non-profit cat rescue from. There’s not enough space for file folders, computer do-dads, samples and books, so things get piled up. I only see the top of my desk bi-annually. I managed to find my Cheshire Cat tote bag which I thought I lost two years ago. I found more places the cats peed and got it cleaned up. I threw out a lot of stuff and organized other things. Maybe if I could keep this up I could get a lot of cleaning done? Then I realized I could only do so much without having water or light.

The sun was going down. Sam called and said he was coming home, but that the roads were a mess and it took him nearly two hours to drive a normally 20 minute route. Part of me wished he would not come home, but I was lonely and scared. I kept wondering when the power was going to come back on. I kept checking my iPhone to see if CL&P was restoring power to Newtown. It was not. Other towns were being helped, but we were not on the list yet. Time seemed to pass twice as slowly. When was this going to be over?

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Blitzen and Spencer by the fire.

We got the cats fed. I found an old down comforter and made a bed up for the foster cats to snuggle into. I built a fire in our crummy fireplace. It doesn’t heat the house unless you sit IN the fire, but it gave off a little warmth and helped light up the room. I noticed a few of the cats sitting near the fire, something they’ve never been interested in doing. I put down a blanket for them so they could sit close. Of course they fought over who got to sit where, but in time they worked it out. I brought many candleholders out and lit candles. There was just barely enough light to read by. I sat and shivered under a blanket on the sofa and tried to read. There was nothing much else to do.

Most of the stores and restaurants in town were closed. Getting dinner was not a simple task. Sam offered to get Chinese food again and this time I said OK. The misery of the situation forced us to get along. We were polite and courteous, but Sam’s side of the bed remained empty each night. I knew we’d both have been a lot warmer if we could have shared our body heat at night. At least I had the cats with me.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Glad I had candles, at least.

By Tuesday I was a miserable wreck. I was crying from not knowing when this nightmare was going to be over. I was tired of being cold, of not being able to wash my hair or myself, of lugging gallons of water to flush, and never feeling clean enough. I was tired of not getting along with Sam. He came over to me and gave me a hug. I told him I couldn’t take it any more and began to sob.

I decided to book a few nights at a hotel. I figured even if I could just get one or two nights sleep in a warm bed and have a shower and good meal, I could stick it out until the power was restored. Sam thought it was a good idea.

I used my iPhone to look up hotels, while wearing my highest magnification glasses so I could see the screen clearly. To my dismay, I discovered most of the local hotels were not open. There was a Hilton Garden Inn in Danbury that said they didn’t have power on their web site, but I was able to find they did have a location about 25 miles away that might have a vacancy. I called the Hilton Reservations number and they said they could book me at the Danbury location for two nights starting the next night. I asked them if they were certain the place was open and they said it would be open the next day. I was THRILLED!!! I could get through anything now!

Sam left for his client’s office and I was left to figure out what to do. I decided I was going to wash my hair. It was filthy. I couldn’t wait until the next night to shower. The town had a place open where I could get a shower, but they only had TWO shower stalls for the entire town to use, you only got 5 minutes (not really a big deal), but GOD KNOWS WHO took a shower before you did! I’m sorry, but I guess I’d rather have a cold makeshift shower at home.

Again, every little thing required planning. I knew we were getting a delivery of water in another day so I felt okay about using some of our resources. I got out a watering can. Looking at it made me sad. We used to use it to rinse Bob off when we gave him a bath to soothe his ringworm and here I was going to use it on myself.

I took the tops off a few bottles of water and set them aside. I filled up the watering can, then put a sauce pan in the sink to catch the water I used to get my hair wet. I figured I could use the water again since I only wet my hair with it. I built a fire in the fireplace so I could be warm after washing my hair. I removed most of the layers I was wearing until I had a men’s cotton undershirt left. It was so cold. I had to move quickly.

I wrapped a towel around my shoulders and bent over the sink. I poured some water onto my head, being careful that the water would fall into the saucepan. It was bloody cold! It felt like metal ice picks shoved into my brain! It was too late now. I had to finish what I started. I lathered up as best I could, then rinsed off my hair. I could feel my hair knotting up into a rat’s nest. I sprayed conditioner onto my hair and tried to smooth it out. I was shivering and shaking. At that point I was glad to be cleaner, but felt annoyed that my hair was a tangled wreck.

I ran over to sit by the fire, which was a small relief. I thought about how the next morning I’d be washing my hair in a nice HOT shower at the hotel. I could get through this. I just had to hang on. Some of the cats sat near me. They kept giving me this weird look. Clearly then were confused and cold and wanted this to be over, too. I tried to soothe them as best I could.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. A huge tent goes up. A line of porto-potties forms. It's the staging area for ALL the out-of-state utility workers!

The next day and a half was more of the same. More being cold, more not eating much, more being frustrated and now I was feeling more dirty. I just couldn’t get clean. I was feeling more and more desperate. I wanted my life back. I wanted a hot cup of tea, but most places were still closed and though Newtown had been declared as a staging area for the arriving out-of-state power company repair guys, we weren’t getting our lights on any faster. There were rumors the power would be on by midnight Saturday. Saturday? That would mean a WEEK without power! Oh GOD!

I started using the bathroom at the Town Hall for “certain” things. Try re-regulating your body’s digestive system timing. Yeah..not easy. At least I could avoid having to carry heavy containers of water up and down the stairs for constant flushing.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.

The major news networks showed up at the warming center. Brian Williams of NBC did a report. We were featured on CNN, Fox and all the big local networks. Apparently, our little town was “ground zero” for the worst damage in the state and that was one of the reasons restoring the power was taking so long. I never, in a million years, thought I’d be living in a place that might qualify for having FEMA show up. I’m usually the person that sends in a donation to the Red Cross to help others and now I was the one getting MRE (meals ready-to-eat) and trying to figure out how to put my life back in order. It was very humbling.

Wednesday afternoon I packed my bags. I couldn’t wait to get to the hotel. That morning I called the local number and the lines were busy. Sam called, too. Sam problem. We figured everyone was trying to get a hotel and we patted ourselves on the back for calling when we did. I called the main reservation line at Hilton. They said the hotel was on a generator and not to worry about it!

Thursday morning I was scheduled to talk to my neurologist about the results of an MRI of my brain. I was in a car accident almost a year ago and have suffered chronic headaches ever since. It was not an appointment I was going to miss and their offices had just opened back up. I figured I would go to the Doctor directly from the hotel and Sam would take his car, separately, and drive straight home to get the cats fed.

We drove to the Hilton. It was dark on the highway. I was in the lead. I couldn’t wait to get to the hotel. It was going to cost about $400.00 for two nights, but I didn’t care at that point. As I got closer to the hotel, I saw the nearby strip mall had lights. Good sign. I thought I could see the hotel from the road, but maybe it was further down the road than I remembered?

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. I catch a glimpse of a convoy of utility trucks. Wish they were headed to my house.

I took the exit off the highway and headed for the Hilton, passing the strip mall. In the darkness, I could make out a sign; “Hilton Garden Inn” and an arrow to the right. I could barely make out that there WAS a hotel there! Not a light was on. There were no cars in the parking lot. My heart sank, then a rage like I have never known, started to boil my blood. I was so angry I wanted to SCREAM, but there was NO ONE TO SCREAM AT!

They booked me into a hotel that was CLOSED.

I knew I’d be hard pressed to find ANY open hotel room within a reasonable distance from my home. I couldn’t go too far. I had to be able to care for the cats. This was NOT RIGHT, NOT FAIR, A CRUEL JOKE! I was so upset I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. Sam pulled up his car alongside mine and rolled down his window. I started ranting and raving. Sam knew better than to say much to me. I got back into my car and called Hilton’s Reservation line. Some person from India told me she was sorry, but “what was she supposed to do about it?” I told her to FIND ME A ROOM. She said none were available unless I wanted to drive another hour to Newburgh, NY or go to LONG ISLAND, which is easily 2 hours or more away. I told her they must hold rooms for special guests and that she owed it to me to GIVE ME A ROOM for causing me so much inconvenience. She said she couldn’t make one magically appear and that she was sorry and that she didn’t have anything and there were no rooms at their partner locations. I don’t normally ever talk rudely to anyone, but this time I let her have it.

She didn’t back down. She just asked me if I wanted to cancel my reservation. ARE YOU F-ING KIDDING ME??? What do you think? They had a hold on my credit card. They were willing to take my money for a phony reservation. So I had to WAIT for her to cancel my reservation while I waited for my head to explode. Then she had the nerve to ask me; “Is there anything else I can do for you this evening?” I told her you’ve f-d me over enough for one day and hung up.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Artists recreation of crappy Hilton Garden Inn hotel in the dark.

I just lost it-whatever IT is. I told Sam to fix it. I had done all the work to make it right for us and now he had to get involved. He was angry with me. I started pacing. I wanted to drive my car into the hotel and set it on fire. Sam was having no luck getting anywhere. The cell service was lousy. I called my ex-sister-in-law, Anne, who I consider my sister. I left her a whiney voicemail saying I would take her up on her offer from earlier that day. I knew she was staying at her parent’s home about an hour from where we were and they had power. They offered that we could come over to take a shower, but I declined, knowing we had a hotel that night. Now we had no hotel so it was back to plan B. I could not go back to my house and FREEZE again! I was so tired and tired of being dirty and tired of being fed up and hungry. I was DONE with it all!

We had no other choice but to go home, grab clean towels and drive over to Mike and Pat’s home. Anne said she’d put the kettle on. Something my Mother always did. Hearing her say that was a small comfort-enough to keep me from doing something stupid. I envisioned that cup of hot tea. I started to cry again. I needed my Mother and my Father, but they’ve been gone for many years now. I wanted to lean on Sam, but he was mad at me. I deserved it, but in some ways I didn’t. My spirit was broken.

We got to the condo around 8pm. Pat and Mike are so sweet. They’ve been married for over 50 years. I think of them as my family, but I don’t often see them. Being in their home was like an oasis in the storm. Things were normal again. We were just visiting family except that we were going to shower in their bathroom instead of celebrate a birthday. I brought their cat Lily, a catnip toy present since I always seem to have new cats toys on hand. Lily looks almost exactly like Spencer, our mascot at Covered in Cat Hair. In fact, I adopted Lily, but she didn’t get on well with my cats so I re-homed her and now she’s a pampered princess.

Sam sat with Mike and Pat. They had a lively conversation. I went upstairs and got ready to take a shower. Anne insisted I didn’t use my towels, but take some clean ones from her Mom. “Why dirty up your towels when you have no way to clean them?” It was a simple kindness, but I got choked up. Anne got me settled, then left me to join her parents.

I couldn’t get into that shower fast enough. It had been FIVE DAYS since I had a real shower.

I didn’t hog all the hot water. I didn’t even make the water that hot. I just stood under the water, letting it rinse me off. It felt so good. My body began to relax. Tension began to drift away as I got lathered up, then rinsed off. I washed my hair. I finally felt CLEAN. I felt like a person again. I put on clean clothes. I thought about a commercial I’d seen where a laundry detergent company sent mobile laundry trucks to places hit by Hurricanes so people could wash their clothes. I started to realize that although we had it bad, it could have been so much worse. We had a house, though living in it was like camping, we had a structure that was still standing.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Dinner anyone?

The night before I said to Sam that I was thinking about all the people who live every day without any electricity. They don’t have TV’s or iPhones. They don’t have running water, but they probably experience the same sort of joy and sorrow we do. I suppose if you took away something that was normal to them, they would suffer, too, but why are we suffering so much? We’re just living like many other people…but we are not prepared, and speaking for myself, I have no skills in living like this. Again, more humbling moments for me.

As I sat down at the table, freshly washed, with Mike, Pat and Anne, Sam got up to take a shower. Everyone remarked at how happy I looked. Anne served me a cup of tea. I wrapped my fingers around the cup and absorbed the soothing warmth into my fingers. I had a sip of tea. I’m a tea snob, but at that moment, I could have been drinking just hot water and I would have been happy. I was really hungry, but I didn’t want to impose. It was getting late and I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. I figured that we could find a diner since this town hadn’t been affected by the storm as badly.

We had a really nice visit and they invited us to come back the next night for a shower if the power was still out. We offered to bring dinner, so it was a date. Now that Sam had showered we said our goodbyes. I felt like I could go another few days without the power being restored now that I was clean.

We found a diner that was still open and had a good meal. I had an omelette. It was really good. I’d barely had anything other than pistachios and fruit cups to eat that day. We got home around midnight. I retired to my freezing cold bed. Sam stayed on the sofa. Another day was done perhaps one day closer to the power being restored.

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Dark Days-Day One

NOTE FROM ROBIN: As many of your know, our power was knocked out by Storm Alfred two weeks ago. This is an accounting based partially on a 10 page handwritten journal entry I wrote on Halloween-2011 and the rest is from memory. I realize that I've been unable to write about what happened until now, partially because I've been in shock and needed time to readjust. The seven days we spent without power were some of the worst days of my life.

I'm also going to share some painful personal experiences. Make of it what you will. No, I don't need help. I'm OK. Writing helps me sort things out. I think that some times that out of pain can come greater understanding of one's self and can perhaps, help others. Also, we ALL have troubles and these are just mine. There are many worse off or better off...this is what I'm experiencing and part of my journey. I'm glad to finally be back.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. The nightmare begins as a magical dusting on the trees.

Writing with paper and pen…it’s too slow. I can’t get my thoughts to slow down enough. Editing this is going to take forever!

It’s Halloween, usually my favorite day of the year. It’s also Blitzen’s second birthday, too, yet celebrating is the last thing on my mind.

The past few days have been extremely difficult. On Saturday, October 29th Connecticut was hit—and I mean BEATEN TO DEATH—by Winter Storm Alfred; a freakishly early snowstorm. I’ve never seen it snow so hard and I lived in Minnesota for more than twelve years. There were such big clumps of snow that little Doodlebug thought the sky was raining cat toys. When I opened the door to the deck, he bolted outside and immediately began leaping and hopping after each falling mass. He seemed unaware that his toes must have been getting cold from melting the snow under his paws. Nothing bothered him. He just wanted to play.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. The DOOD makes a mad dash to play with the huge clumps of falling snow before he was brought back inside.

It was very surreal to see the leaves on the trees, many still green. Within a few hours there was easily six inches of snow on the ground. The trees were beginning to look like skeletons. The snow was so wet and sticky, it encased each branch, leaving it in a thick coating of white.

The weight of the snow grew heavier with each passing hour. By evening, tree limbs and tress began to topple over. Newtown, where I live, is heavily forested and has the most land area of any town in the state at 76 square miles. There were reports that many areas of town had lost power. I knew it wouldn’t be long before our time came, too.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Panorama of my driveway at 7am the morning after the storm hit.

The lights began to flicker on and off for about an hour. It was around 8pm. We went about our usual tasks-feeding the cats, loading the dishwasher. I had just put away some freshly laundered clothes and had moved into the foster room to play with the kittens before their bedtime. Their room was chilly so I turned on a space heater. Within a moment of turning it on, I heard a loud “click”, the power went off, then on, then off, for good.

I sat there in the dark, swearing to myself. The kittens were climbing all over me, excited by the sudden blare of alarms going off. I grabbed a flashlight and made “the rounds,” turning off the screeching battery backups and heavy duty surge protectors we have on all the bigger devices in the house. I had to force quit applications on my computer to get it to shut down. Even with a battery backup and 15 minutes of battery power, it seemed to take forever to get everything shut down. I could feel my blood pressure rising as I started to wonder how long this power was going to be out. We called to report the outage, not realizing that most of the town and surrounding towns were out, too.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. View up the driveway-what driveway?

Then, silence. It was so quiet. That’s what always surprises me when the power goes out, that we live with so much noise. The hum of the refrigerator, the whirring of the furnace, the drone of the computer hard drives; strip that away and you suddenly realize you can hear your breath or tiny sounds coming from other parts of the house, usually made by the cats creeping around, or just nothing at all, maybe it’s the air pressure on your ear drums?

When the power goes out we LOSE EVERTYING. No lights. No heat. No water-so no water for flushing the toilet. Losing the power could become a nightmare if went on for more than a few hours. Usually the power’s restored within 12 hours or so, but it was getting cold inside the house and tensions between the inhabitants in the house were just as frosty.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Looking back on the house. The oaks are close to hitting it and the driveway is impassible.

Something was up with Sam. He was stressed out about work and I was stressed out about the power going out. We didn’t say much to each other that night. With the power out, there was little to do so we went to bed and hoped that in the morning the lights would be back on and we could go back to ignoring each other.

I got up at 7am and looked out from under the covers. My heart sank when I realized the power was still out. The sun was rising and I could see between the slats in the window blinds that the sky was blue, clearly the storm was well over. I guess I’m a bit of a worrywort, especially when it comes to my house. I want to make sure it’s safe and we’re safe inside it. Even though I wanted to go back to sleep, I needed to know if our driveway had been plowed and if we could get out of the house at all.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Panorama looking down the driveway from the street. You can barely see a corner of my house just left of the middle of the image.

I threw some clothes on over my pjs, put on my 30 year old snow boots, my gloves and hat and grabbed my camera. I thought about the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s opens the front door of her home, revealing to us the new world of Oz after her house had made a perilous journey through a tornado, leaving Kansas far behind. There’s that moment of awe as we, the viewer, take in this Technicolor world and Dorothy remarks to her dog, Toto that “We’re not in Kansas any more.”

This new world that greeted me wasn’t colorful at all. It was different shades of white; white everywhere I looked. It was confusing. Things were not where I thought they should be. My driveway stretches 250 feet up a steep incline that’s surrounded by trees. I had no idea where my driveway was.

The trees—the poor trees! They were bent over by the weight of the 15 inches of snow we got. It was such a wet snow that it covered every angle, every side of every object, obscuring what was underneath. This fairyland of white was really a deadly and dangerous place. I heard a loud “CRACK!”, followed by the crash of a large limb off a nearby oak tree. Mighty oaks, so strong and resilient could not stand tall under this burden.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. East down my road. It is so silent. It's like all the people are gone.

As my eyes adjusted and I could make better sense of what I was seeing, I realized that there were a number of large branches next to the house. A few feet over and we would have had them going through the roof. The driveway was impassible with trees bowed down to the ground, acting like gates. I knew I had to get the snow off those trees quickly, so they had a chance of recovering and not crashing across the driveway.

Without the power on, it would be very difficult to get into the garage, so I went back inside and grabbed the only thing I had that had a long pole-I grabbed a telescoping feather duster. It had an aluminum pole, but it was at least 8 feet long, so that’s what I used. I swung the pole against the branches. Each time I struck a limb, snow would wash over me, but I didn’t care. My fingers were so cold they were getting numb, but I had to keep going. I also had to pay attention to where I was standing. At any moment the tree I was working on could fall or the tree next to it could do the same. I was scared but determined. Eventually, I got enough snow off one tree that it began to lift away from the ground. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. With the sun rising and the temperatures supposed to be near the 50’s, the rest of the snow would melt fairly soon. Maybe I wasn’t too late and the trees would survive.

The yard was littered with branches-worse than after Hurricane Irene, which we just finished cleaning up after. There was a branch across the driveway, but I couldn’t move it very far. It was enormous and the weight of it dug into the snow. I’d try again later. I shuffled onward to the street to see if it had been plowed. There was little sign of anything, save for some lone tire tracks. Even the plows hadn’t come through.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Our neighbor's car with broken limbs in the background.

I took photos, marveling at the beautiful scene. I delighted in the white-cloaked trees bathed in an amber glow from the sunrise, the blue in the sky deepening and becoming more vivid, but then something would look out of place. I realized a tree had fallen or more large limbs were scattered in every yard. I walked about a block in the silence, not even a bird was singing. My neighbor’s homes were okay. A few folks had parked outside, but no cars were damaged. Maybe the power would be on later today. Maybe it wasn’t so bad?

I went back inside to thaw out, but it wasn’t much warmer indoors. I had forgotten the heat was still off. I looked out onto the side yard and some of the bigger oaks had large limbs dangling from them. We weren’t in danger, but I figured it would be a long time before we could to get them cleaned up. Most likely every tree guy in town was going to be booked up for a long time to come.

I started to freak out. How were we going to get out of the house? What if we needed help? What if one of the cats got sick? It was damn cold. We needed to figure out how to warm the house up. We needed to make some plans if we were going to get through this…not having any idea of how long the power was going to be out. My phone had a little bit of battery life left. I looked up the CL&P web site. They provide our power. 99% of Newtown was out. Most of any nearby town was hit just as badly. Even if we could get out there was no place to go that was open and I had no idea if the roads were even passable.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. This scene was so magical. The reality of what may have happened throughout the rest of Newtown hadn't sunk in yet.

Sam, meanwhile, was asleep. I am far from perfect, but it mad me really mad that he was sleeping when we needed to be planning. Yes, I could have gone back to bed and waited until Sam got up and then we could both start planning and work on getting the driveway cleared, but I couldn’t hold back. It was already 9am. As I walked into the bedroom to tell Sam what I had seen, he got up and went to the bathroom. I heard a “flush” and it really set me off. When the power goes out, we CAN’T flush the toilets. We have to figure out who gets which bathroom, then use that toilet until it must be flushed with water we have reserved in one of two 5 gallon jugs. When that runs out, which would be fairly soon, we’re in trouble. He just wasted a lot of water and I was furious that he was so blasé about the whole thing. He forgot, he said. What is the big deal?

The tension between us only got worse. I shoveled the deck while he worked on getting more snow off the trees in the driveway. We were both in a bad mood. I realized Sam couldn’t get his coffee and that would just make things worse. At every turn, Sam did something else to piss me off. I asked myself if I had PMS. Nope. Not time. Great. It’s not bad enough the power is out for who knows how long, but we’re not getting along. I felt like a wild animal caught in a leg trap. I started to wonder if I was going to have to gnaw my leg off to get away-and with my car, there was NO way I was going to get out of the driveway any time soon. I was stuck-so was he until the trees could stand, unblocking the driveway.

In the electrified silence, we avoided each other for the rest of the day. I kept hoping the power would kick back on, but then I saw a post on Facebook that the governor said the power might be out for MORE THAN A WEEK! That’s when I really started to panic. My cell phone battery was running out. I had ¼ tank of gas. I could charge my phone if I ran my car engine, at least.

I just wanted a hot cup of tea and for this to be all over, but no. It had to get worse, first.

I don’t even remember what started it, but Sam and I had another 4 minute fight. He cut to the chase saying he was done with me and going to move out. That he was tired of my anger, meanwhile he was yelling, so go figure. He was so aggressive it scared me. I shot back at him saying I was just trying to protect the house and make things safe here, prepare for what to do until the power went back on, but he didn’t even believe me. He just thought I was a cruel bitch, though he didn’t call me that. Then he asked me if I wanted to live, inferring that I better shut up. In my life, I have never been so scared of anyone. He’s never threatened my life before and claims it wasn’t a threat. Not a threat? Really? Then what would you call that?

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. The branches of this oak tree touch the ground. It's as if the trees gave up trying to stand.

I told him to leave, to get out. Go to New York City. Stay with your Mother, but he wouldn’t go. I told him he could not sleep in the bedroom with me. There was no way I would feel safe near him again. He wouldn’t be moved. He didn’t care. He didn’t want to sleep with me either. It was awful, but I was so fed up I didn’t care any more. I think perhaps a lifetime of hurt and anguish just got to me in that moment. So we were fighting. So we hated each other. So what?

We turned our backs on each other and went to our separate corners, but with the power out what we really needed to do was to team up. Everything was going to be a lot harder now.

A few hours later, he knocked on my office door. He was going out to see if any restaurants were open and did I want anything. I couldn’t believe he went from threats and yelling to offering to get me food. I could have been nice and accepted his gesture, but I was so pissed I said no. I would rather go without than feel like I owed him any kindness. After he stomped off I went to the garage, now that it was open. If I couldn’t get out of the driveway because I don’t have a 4wd car, then I could charge my phone-my only lifeline to the world.

The sun had just set and it was getting quite dark. The only light came from a few orange indicators on the dashboard. After a few minutes I checked my phone battery. It would be a long while before it was charged. My hand brushed the knob to the car stereo and had inadvertently turned it on. I hadn’t heard much music for a long time, even before the power went out. It was like being reunited with a friend to hear a familiar song. Andy Partridge, formerly of XTC was taking my thoughts and fears away.

My break was short lived. There was no erasing this suffering. I looked into the side view mirror and saw a rolling white plume of warm exhaust mixing with the frosty air. The heater had kicked in and I was feeling warm, but could not really relax. I sat there with tears running down my cheeks, wondering how I got to this place, trapped in a relationship that had long ago soured. Was the rest of my life going to be just as miserable and full of anger and hate? I shocked myself thinking how easy it would be to hit Sam. The same guy I loved for so long. The same guy I used to write letters to when we weren’t together, telling him I missed him and loved him and couldn't wait to see him again. And now…he's the same guy who makes my blood boil, who bores me, who has checked out of our life together probably a very long time ago. I knew that all I had to do was pull the garage door down and it would be all over. I’d just go to sleep. All my foolish choices and angry words would swirl away-just like the innocent white exhaust.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Looking out my living room window-realizing we were very lucky that although many branches and trees were damaged and dangerously close, none of them hit the house. These trees are bent over in half.

I sat there in the dark, thinking, maybe things are never going to get better? I took a wrong turn somewhere and can’t seem to right myself. Am I really so awful to live with or does he just focus on the bad? He wouldn’t even believe me when I told him the truth. He assumes I’m a liar, with no cause or no good reason. I don’t deserve being accused of that. There is nothing to be gained from lying.

It took 45 minutes to charge my phone. Somehow I just sat there feeling miserable, but didn’t do anything drastic. It wasn’t because of the cats or that I didn’t leave a note, but I hoped I would feel differently one day and that I tried to be strong and just feel what I feel, bad as it may be, then try to move on from there.

I think I’ve had my heart broken for one reason or another, so many times, that I’m numb. If Sam wants to leave, it will be very painful, but so be it. I’ve felt pain more than joy in my life. What is so different? I used to fear the day one of us would die, leaving the other alone. I couldn’t imagine my life without Sam and yet it was going to happen and it might be that we’d only be alone because we live separate lives.

I went back inside the house. It was the end of the first full day without power. It so cold-only 49 degrees. The cats were following me around, probably scared and worried about what had happened. I huddled by a candle and read a book huddled under the covers. I couldn't sleep. That night Sam didn’t come to bed. I was happy and sad at the same time. I’ve never worn so many clothes to bed, including my fingerless gloves and a hat. The cats were curled into tight circles on the comforter, as close to me as they could manage. It was 26 degrees outside. I could hear the coyotes yipping and shrieking. They were close by and I could tell there were many of them. They’d probably surrounded a poor deer who was about to become a meal. I felt so badly. I wanted to help the innocent creature but there was nothing I could do.

In that moment, I felt a lot like that deer.

...end of day One.

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Review & Giveaway: Awkward Family Pet Photos Book!

After careful consideration, from time to time I write a product reviews. If you see it here, it's because, at LEAST I think it's worth you knowing about even if I have an issue with it and, at BEST, I think it's amazing and we should all have one, two or more of whatever it is I'm reviewing. I get NO reimbursement for writing these reviews, though to write a review I am supplied with the item, as I was in this case. This review is MY OPINION, ONLY. The result you experience using this product may differ.

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I spent the better (or worse?) part of my life being mortified by my Mother. She seemed to have a camera surgically implanted in her hand at all times. For every moment of my life-my first period, crying over my sandwich not being cut in a DIAGONAL, even one amazing bowel movement-my Mother was always there ready to capture it on film. 140 photo albums and 40+ years later and I have a private (meaning PRIVATE, GOD-FORBID-NOT-TO-SHARE) record of my life.

At the time of each photo, I was told to smile nicely, stand up straight, suck in my gut. I never thought about the polyester two-tone jumpsuit I was wearing, along with my big, clunky glasses. I was always pretty, right? Even with home-done white streaks of highlights in my hair. Who cared if it looked like my hair was a hazard sign in the making?

We all have one or two, or in my case a few thousand of “those” photos where we “can't believe we ever looked like THAT.” Today we look, cool, right?

Mike Bender and Doug Chernack have a keen eye for such vintage fashion flops, helmet hair, what-were-they-thinking compositions in their web site and matching NY Times Best Selling book, “Awkward Family Photos”.

Clearly, once realizing the gold mine they were sitting on, Bender & Chernack began their quest for equally awkward pet photos. There were so many submitted to their web site that these savants of the surreal decided to choose the best, or is that worst? of the bunch and create a separate tome; “Awkward Family Pet Photoswhich will hit bookstores on November, 1, 2011.

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Do you really care if this softcover book, at 173 pages, is well (or is that appropriately badly?) designed and printed on good quality paper? If you do/did, then this book is for you! If you have more depth and need actual content, then heck, this book is for you, too.

The authors didn't simply grab photos off their web site and reproduce them, though many are featured in the book. They included images not seen on their site, along with behind-the-awkwardness commentary regarding some of the photos from their contributors. They also asked a veterinarian to offer his take on some of the images, which amps up the awkward-factor.

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©2011 By Awkward Family, LLC.

As I turned each page, I had a moment, part flashback to my childhood and part WTF! At first glance, many of the photos seem perfectly normal, if your idea of normal is a parallel universe where everything is slightly off-keel. There are families, posed in a group, dressed to the nines, wearing their best fur coat or matching Dutch girl outfits. Some are holding an object, more often than not it's a beloved pet, but wait...is that a TIGER? That is not a tabby...that is a TIGER! A longer glance and the true awkwardness washes over you...no, that toddler isn't simply smiling, facing the camera, oblivious, while a soft-focus pair of horny dogs copulate in the background, right?

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©2011 By Awkward Family, LLC.

I have to wonder, if maybe this isn't so much awkward as unvarnished? Is this a crystal clear vision of what life is really like behind closed doors? Did all these people vote in the last election? Do photos like this exist of people and pets in other cultures or is this weirdness exclusive to Americans?

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©2011 By Awkward Family, LLC.

I hope that Mr. Bender and Mr. Chernack are able to answer that question in a forthcoming book. I'd like to know if it's just us or is the whole world is as awkward?

If you like to laugh out loud while simultaneously feel creeped out and worried about the future of our country, stock up on this book. It's a riot and worth studying, carefully...because you never know, one of those photos may be of you.

If you'd like to WIN a copy of “Awkward Family Pet Photos” simply leave a comment, below. Share your awkward moments if you dare. TWO names will be selected to WIN! You can only leave ONE comment for one chance to win per person. Voting ends NOVEMBER 1, 2011 at 11:11 AM EST and is open to residents of the USA, only (sorry guys!).

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In honor of Awkward Family Pet Photos, I thought I'd share a few of mine with you. I left out the photo of me with the striped hair or crying over my sandwich mishap (when I was 4).

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©2004 Robin A.F. Olson. One of the worst photos I ever took. Guess Cricket's butthole is powered by the sun.

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©2004 Robin A.F. Olson. My dear Stanley, humping Santa Bear. Good times...good times...

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©1970 Robin Feminella. This is out of the vault. Yours truly (center) receiving the key to the City of Miami Beach from the Mayor. I had just arrived at the Delta gate from Minnesota to attend The All-American Glamour Kitty Contest with my cat, Tsu Tsu Gamuchi-just moments after she nearly escaped the tarmack a the Miami Airport. And yes, that's a Playboy bunny (left). The “contest” was held at the Playboy Plaza Hotel in Miami Beach. And yes, the telling of this story should be my next book project.

Oh, and make sure you check out Page 134 if you get a copy of the book...I'm just sayin'...

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Chaos-Central or Is My Cat Sick?

I can't believe it's been over a month since Bob passed away. It was a tough time-between losing him, then losing three neonatal kittens who were rescued in honor of Bob-it just felt like too much. I got a very bad chest cold and have been sick for four weeks. It's finally passing, but something else is going on in my home that's added to the feeling of chaos.

The heirarchy between the cats has shifted. Clearly there are power struggles going on. Cats who have regularly been a "problem" are fighting with newcomers. The result are urine puddles and poop piles that aren't in the litter pan.

I get it. I really do. Not only is Bob gone, but we're test driving Doodlebug to see if he can live harmoniously with the other cats. Mazie, who I rescued just about a YEAR ago, STILL LIVES HERE. She's become more bold and brazen. She's staking out some territory, too.

It's easy to shake a finger and tell me to not have the cats, but I see Mazie as transient and overall she's a very good cat. The problems I see are with Blitzen, Nicky and Petunia. The others manage okay and they don't spray or mark the house.

The biggest culprit is Nicky. He will literally pee on the floor right in front of me. When this 19+ pound cat lets go, a lake forms below him. He also poops by the doorways, usually one of the first things I see in the morning.

In sorting out what to do, I have to remember that Nicky could be sick. Nicky could be upset that Petunia is asserting herself more than ever now that Bob, her arch enemy is gone. To rule out illness, Nicky went to visit Dr. Larry today.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Nicky, “Mr. Lovey-Dovey” at the Vet with Sam giving him a belly rub.

Nicky has lost over a pound in the past year, which is good, unless it's a trend downward from illness. He has one tooth that might be painful so he'll need a dental. Dr Larry did some blood work and a urinalysis-the results come in tomorrow. We discussed Nicky's water intake, which has noticeably increased over the past few months. This could mean diabetes (which I doubt since I did tested him a few weeks ago and he was normal), hyperthyroid (common in older cats and Nicky is 11) or renal failure (which we hope that's not what it is). ANY of these things, including his painful tooth, could be causing him to eliminate outside the box.

Then Dr. Larry asked me how many litter pans we had. I answered that we have three that are enormous. He seemed surprised, then said that we need a lot more. I questioned him about it because with the cats on a raw diet they don't fill up the pans and we keep scooping them at least once if not more times a day. He told me about a client who has TWO cats. She has one of those perfectly clean homes. She worked long hours and came home and found pee all over the place. To solve the problem, she ended up buying a kiddie pool (!!!), then placing SIX cat litter pans INSIDE the pool with fresh litter.

The inappropriate peeing stopped.

Each of the litter pans was used over the course of the day. There might be something to this after all. Our problem is that our house is a contemporary and all the rooms are open to each other. We don't have a lot of room for litter pans, but we will MAKE SOME ROOM, that's for sure. Tonight we're going out to buy some new pans. We'll see if that makes a dent in it.

The peeing problem is quite bad. It seems every day I find another place they were peeing on. We're trying all sorts of tricks and behavior modification and we've seen a reduction to not happening at all for the pooping, but the peeing..ugh...what IS IT WITH CATS? I am honestly trying to understand what they need and to give each one love and attention. I'm failing. I have to fix this.

Then there's Gracie.

Gracie is a sweet cat. She hardly has a mean bone in her body. Gracie was one of my first foster cats about 8 years ago. She was an "unwed" Mother to three kittens. Gracie's had Miliary Dermatitis for three years. I've done every test, treatment, seen every specialist I can and so far all I know is she seems sensitive to fish and homeopathy helped her stop being so painfully shy. I also think this may be the path to helping Gracie's skin now that we have her in a more calm frame of mind. You can read more about Gracie by doing a search on GRACIE in the sidebar. A few posts about her are HERE and HERE.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Gracie hiding under the towel. Maybe Dr. Larry won't see her?

A few nights ago I was petting Gracie. She's so jumpy I don't often get to pet more than her head, but this time she let me pet her belly. Right away my fingers detected something not right-a mass on her abdomen. It felt like an M&M.

Sam and I took her into the bathroom and tried to clip the fur away from her belly but we couldn't see much. This morning Dr. Larry got out the clippers and shaved her belly.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. The cyst is the blue thing. The scabs are scabs from her dermatitis (looks worse than it really is).

Before he shaved Gracie he felt the cyst. He had a grave look on his face that told me everything. I started to think..."Oh no..not cancer again..we just went through this with Bob...I have no resources if she's that sick." Dr. Larry explained why it didn't feel like just a simple cyst; that he couldn't get under it and the texture didn't feel right.

After he shaved Gracie he didn't look so grim. What appeared to me like a freakish blueberry, Dr. Larry thought might be, I will paraphrase, a pore, perhaps there's ingrown fur in the growth and basically it's like a big zit? I'm to put warm compresses on the thing for the next few days and see if I can encourage it to drain (pop). Weee! Fun! Almost as good as when Dr. Larry offered to let me express Bob's anal glands.

It could still be cancer. We're not out of the woods. If I can't get it to drain, then he will excise it. Gracie needs a dental, too, so he'll do both. We discussed that 3 years ago when she had her last dental, that she got this rash afterwards. He's going to sedate her differently so perhaps she will be less stressed. I know he'll go as easy on her as possible. It just seems as though her skin breaks out when she is highly stressed. I should have named her, Nervous Nelly.

As we struggle to cope with missing Bob and struggle to sort out what's going on with the remaining cats, I know that in time we'll have some answers. I just hope I'm okay with what I find out.

Where Was I?

Last week sucked the life out of me. It was a cumulative effect of the stress of caring for Bob during the last weeks of his life, then watching Bob lose his battle with cancers, then the three little orange kittens dying and so many other things. Pretty much everything that's not an emergency has been kicked to the wayside. I'm just wiped out and sick with a nasty chest cold. After 10 days I think I'm finally starting to feel somewhat better, but now I have a mountain of things to catch up on. I'm still trying to write “thank you” notes to donors from months ago and catch up on posts for cats in need and somehow try to figure out how I'm going to pay the mortgage next month.

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©2011 Maria S. Mikey!

Yesterday I sat in bed and felt guilty, but I really needed to zone out. Things have been very difficult in the house since before Bob died. Everyone needs a break and there's just no way to get one.

Right after Bob died, many of the cats started peeing all over the house. It's been a nightmare. We know that Nicky, one of the big boys, is peeing and pooping inappropriately. He's peed into a cat food bowl that was sitting on the floor. Great aim, but shocking, since he did it right in front of me. Of course, he needs to go to the Vet. We have to rule out illness, but we also just dropped $800. on Nora's (Nicky's sister) emergency dental. Nicky is due for a wellness exam, blood work and urinalysis. Maybe he's not feeling well, but odds are this is the result of the “pecking order” in the house changing.

I upped the number of SSScats and Feliway diffusers. I ordered Spirit Essences from Jackson Galaxy. Sam and I are working with the cats to keep them calm, but Sam and I have not been getting along at all. We don't fight, but we don't talk, either. I know it stresses the cats out. If for no other reason, we had to fix that, too.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Free at last, the DOOD relaxes on a cat tree in the living room.

Then there is the DOOD. Finally freed from two-month quarantine and not sick with Feline Leukemia, his debut into the rest of the house was probably going to spark more flare ups between the other cats and cause even more peeing. I knew it would probably be temporary, but that didn't make the fact that Nicky peed onto my family's heirloom oriental rug any easier to take.

Life is about managing change. Things are always in flux, but how do you deal with it when it all feels like too much?

Shutting down doesn't help and I can't just sit in bed with the cats and watch reruns of The Big Bang Theory for the rest of my life. I have to pick myself up and get to work and plow through some things. It's been a rough time, but I have to have faith that it will get better.

Sunday afternoon, Sam asked me if I wanted to clean the rug (again) or put clean sheets on the bed next? He was placating me. I don't think he wanted to do either, but he feared my wrath since the house is getting really messy and I was very angry about Nicky spoiling the rug. I don't know why I chose that moment, but I asked Sam to sit down so we could “talk.” I was done with being silently furious-it was time to just let it out and be done with it.

We had a long talk. We both let each other know we were fed up with the relationship, or lack thereof. It wasn't overly emotional. There wasn't any yelling. I think we were both to a point of either; “let's just get this over with” or DO something to fix it. I felt dead inside. I figured Sam probably felt about the same way. No reason to be afraid of being hurt. We've been in each other's life for 18 years. It's not always going to be smooth sailing and maybe we had grown apart so far there was no turning back?

I had no feeling about any outcome. However it worked out was fine, as long as something is worked out. I couldn't live like two strangers in the same house any longer. I really thought this was the end.

But...it wasn't. The turning point was when I told Sam I really wanted him to be my friend and he said he wanted the same from me. I had to tell him things that have really hurt me and about things I really need from him and he shared his feelings about what he needed, as well. We didn't try to be something we're not, but we did agree to just try to be friends. Our lives are intertwined in so many ways. We have to keep trying.

I'm glad Sam and I talked. Things are better and the cats seem more relaxed, as well. I realized you can't just plow forward and hope things will work out. They don't. You have to do the work or you can just suffer in silence.

As for the cats, there have been a few surprising updates. More on that in my next post, but first I gotta get some work done.

Not on My Watch: Orange Mama + 6 in Dire Situation

Here we are again...in that same, familiar place. Another Mama cat and her six newborn kittens are in DIRE NEED OF RESCUE by a GA LICENSED RESCUE ORGANIZATION---that needle in a haystack so difficult to find.

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©2011 Betsy Merchant.

Apparently, Mama isn't eating. She gave birth a few days ago and hasn't eaten since. As she grows weaker she is at high risk of getting SICK, then she will be put down, along with her innocent babies. This breaks my heart especially because being orange, they make me think of Bob and how much I'd like to rescue them in his honor.

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©2011 Betsy Merchant.

There are many obstacles-the big one is what is wrong with mama? If she is VERY SICK she may need to be put down. Can I make that choice? Can Bobby, who will have to pick her up, be in the room with her. What will that do to him? What about the kittens? Are they going to be sick, too? Will this be another year long many thousands of dollars vet bill? What if Maria has to bottle feed the babies? She can't! She has to work!

I'm hoping that by posting this, a GA Licensed Rescue group will see it and call Betsy Merchant or Gerri Yoder, who is the Director at Henry County Care & Control, and save this family TODAY! Contact info at end of post.

THIS IS DIRECTLY FROM BETSY-------------------------

This precious young little Mama is in dire shape. We cannot find anything she will eat. She is skin and bones and literally wasting away here while desperately trying to care for her 6 newborns.

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©2011 Betsy Merchant.

We have given her every type of canned and dry chow and she just will not eat any of it. I have boiled some chicken to take tomorrow and try but we are running out of time. She is so thin, and she cannot keep feeding her tiny tots.

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©2011 Betsy Merchant.

PLEASE spare them, we need rescues help NOW!

Mama+6 ID# 9/10-1913

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©2011 Betsy Merchant.

**Please Note; When forwarding, crossposting, or re-posting I ask that you leave this message intact exactly as it was written by me. I do not give permission to post my message, part of my message, or my photographs on Craig's List or FACEBOOK. Thank you for your help and support, and for respecting my wishes.**

Betsy Merchant~

We are very rescue friendly and are more than happy to work with any rescue group as long as the group has a valid Georgia Department of Agriculture license! Any rescue group, whether in or out of state, that takes pets from Georgia shelters, is required, by Georgia law, to have a rescue license issued by the Georgia Department of Agriculture's Animal Protection Division. Having tax exempt status is not the same as a license. For more information on obtaining a license, please call (404) 656-4914.

Contact:

mystiblu@bellsouth.net

Henry County Animal Care and Control

527 Hampton Street

McDonough, Georgia 30253

(770) 288-7401

http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/GA67.html

Our Hours:

Monday-Friday: 9 am-4:30 pm

Saturday: 9 am-1 pm

Sunday: Closed

County Observed Holidays: Closed

The shelter is located at 527 Hampton Street in McDonough. We are located south of Atlanta off I-75. Take exit 218 and head east on 20/81 toward McDonough. Our address is 527 Hwy 20/81 East.

For all other information regarding ordinances, county codes, and other functions of Henry County Animal Care and Control please visit www.hcacc.org

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9|11: A Look Back...Part 2 of 2

The last few minutes of the trip to Grand Central Terminal was spent traveling under the city streets. I often looked out into the darkness, catching a glimpse of other trains sparking against the rails or barely illuminated shapes that my imagination always conjured into strange creatures. What was out there? Were people living among the drips and constant rumble of the trains? I saw graffiti. Someone must be down there. The thought gave me the shivers.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. View from the Balcony at work, looking south down 5th Avenue.

As I did every day I commuted, I got up early and stood near the doorway. I wanted to be one of the first people off the train. Others joined suit. None of us wanted to be stuck behind someone fumbling with a briefcase or getting a coat off the overhead rack. We ALL had somewhere to go, NOW! The second the doors opened, people raced out the door, eager to get where they were going and get ahead of the guy next to them. I had my sneakers on. Yes, I was one of those woman who wore sneakers to the office, then changed into “work shoes” once I arrived. I could make better time, though being short, most everyone raced ahead of me, regardless of my footware.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. Another view from the office taken two days after Sept. 11th. You can see part of the Empire State Bldg. If you look carefully, you'll see some smoke near the bottom of the image. That's the debris cloud from the World Trade Towers collapse.

I never liked crowds and this always made me feel slightly panicked until we got out into the very grand concourse of Grand Central, with its soaring ceiling featuring a representation of the constellations, tiny bright lights emulating stars. In the center of the concourse was the big brass ball clock that sits atop the Information Booth. It's where I first met Sam in 1993. Many People were standing in the area around the clock, as it was a familiar meeting point. Other people were racing past the folks who were waiting. There were many near collisions as people tried to navigate around the crowd. One day, I stopped walking and stood still, shut my eyes and just listened. It was rather unnerving, to say the least. I think I heard the sound of the world passing right by me.

I made it to work in good time and, as I did each morning, I dropped my heavy backpack onto my desk, changed out of my sneakers, then grabbed a few dollars and went back downstairs to the deli to get my egg sandwich on an everything bagel.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. 5th Avenue and the gateway to the dust cloud from the Towers collapse.

This was the part of the day where I could finally relax and not feel like I was having an anxiety attack. I saw some of my co-workers and said my “hello's” and “how are you doings?” Then Tony saw me. He was the cook. Tony was from Puerto Rico and was missing a few teeth. He always smiled and was cheerful, his plump cheeks glistening from standing near the stove. He asked me if I wanted “the usual” and I answered, yes. I always felt a bit special when he asked me that. We had a quick chat, then it was on to filling the next order. Tony was like a machine. He had everything sorted out and was cranking out breakfast orders in a flash. The day was getting off to a good start.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. Just some of the many missing posters that papered the City for weeks after 9|11.

I went upstairs into the office. The firm I freelanced for was located in the former Tiffany Building on 37th Street at 5th Avenue. Our space, that held about 60 people, was in an open space with two-story tall ceilings. Some fancy pants architect designed it, but I hated what they did. It was VERY noisy. The floors were elevated a few inches so they could run the lines for the computers since there were no walls-other than the outer walls of the building. The floor was concrete tiles. You could NOT wear heels or they made a terrible racket. They kicked up dust and never looked clean. We sat in small partitioned spaces, some were crammed two to a desk because the company was growing and we had long since ran out of space. There were huge iconic pillars every 30 feet or so, but the ceiling, for some stupid reason, was left "as it was" originaly-so it had big holes in it and once in awhile a chunk of ceiling would crash on someone's desk. The only saving grace to the entire space was that we had two -story tall windows that wrapped two sides of the office. One of them overlooked 5th Avenue. We had a tiny balcony, too. We could watch the Columbus Day parade from there or check out the pedestrians over our lunch break.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. This always makes me sad. I just looked up the two names I can read on the posters. Giovanna and Mario's names are on the list that says they both died. Giovanna worked at Cantor Fitzgerald.

I sat down to eat and got my computer started so I could check email and see the status on some projects I was working on. A few of the guys went over to the balcony, then I started to hear a commotion. Nothing was private in that office and I wondered what was going on. I went over to the balcony and someone told me that a plane hit one of the World Trade Towers. I thought they meant a little tiny plane. I looked down 5th Avenue and sure enough, there was dark gray smoke coming out of the building. It looked like maybe a movie was being filmed, but two of the guys had scanners and were picking up the feed from them. Then someone else said that no, a BIG JET hit the World Trade tower!

So now I'm torn. Okay, this is bad but we have to do our work, so I sat back down at my desk. I started to hear sirens, lots of them. Then someone said ANOTHER jet just hit the other World Trade Tower! The first thing I said was; “we are at War.” The second thing I said to myself was that I needed to get out of the city RIGHT NOW.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. One of the memorials at Union Square.

I called my boyfriend and told him what was going on, my voice getting higher out of fear, the adrenaline kicking back into my system. He didn't seem particularly worried, as if I was being overly dramatic. I was really shocked, but he didn't get it. I said goodbye and looked around at my colleagues who were all buzzing about what was going on. I tried to call my Mother, but I couldn't get a call through on my cellphone or the landline. I walked a few feet over to the office cubby next to mine. That's where Sam was working. He was my boss. Somehow even though we broke up months before, we managed to be friendly, though our private life was something we didn't talk about. He sort of knew I was seeing someone and I was pretty sure he had a girlfriend somewhere out of state. He was the only person I really trusted in the office. As a lifelong resident of New York, Sam knew his way around.

Being on a main thoroughfare, we had firetruck after firetruck pass our windows, sirens blaring. I've never heard such a cacaphony before or since. Over the noise, the Owner of the company started to call out to us, to gather us together. We had no meeting area, so we flanked the central aisle. After everyone settled down, they told us what we already knew and said they decided to shut down the office and let us all go home. That if we lived out of the city, that we should partner up with someone who lived locally in case we ran into trouble getting out of town. I looked at Sam and I could tell that we were going to leave together. Safety in numbers, right?

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson.

I packed up my things, my head buzzing, trying to figure out what to do. Sam lived along the same rail line as I did, so we decided to make a beeline for Grand Central and catch the next train out. I looked at my worn red and white schedule and saw there was a train leaving in about 15 minutes. If we walked really fast we might just make it.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. I bent over to sign this banner, then noticed the inscription from Maryann, who was a survivor from the 48th floor. This really touched me.

Outside the office, things weren't too different, maybe a bit more chaotic. I didn't pay attention. I just wanted to go home. We got to GCT in record time. I didn't care if I was out of breath. I was on the train, we could go home now! I kept willing the doors to shut. I wanted to hear the familiar doorbell sound that indicated the doors were closed and we were going to leave. The doors shut. I heard the sound! We were going to get out!

But the train didn't move.

Then the doors opened. The conductor made an announcement. Grand Central Terminal was going to CLOSE. There would be no further train service—to get off the train immediately because they were evacuating due to a bomb threat!

Oh no! Now what do we do?

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. Union Square-NYC.

Sam told me we should head north. His Mother lived on 102nd. If we walked to hear apartment, we could stay with her until there was train service again. We were on 42nd street. I dreaded the walk, but what else could we do?

We got out of GCT and that's when things changed. There was no real traffic. You could walk down the middle of the street in some places. There were people on the sidewalk openly crying. We passed about 10 people. They had formed a circle and were praying loudly, while others wept. People were on their knees, staring south, towards the Towers, crying. I tried not to panic. Then I told Sam I wanted to go south, to the Towers, to help. I knew people would need help and I didn't want to run off. He said, NO. It was too dangerous. That we could help later, not now. We needed to be away from the Towers for our own safety. We didn't know if there were more planes coming and being near the Empire State Building and GCT made us targets, too.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson.

So I told Sam we needed to get as much cash as possible. We found an ATM and loaded up. There was an electronics store nearby so I bought a portable radio and extra batteries so we had some way of getting news. Our cellphones weren't working so this was all we had. I kept thinking about my Mother. I knew she would be worrying about me and I had no way to tell her I was all right. I turned off my phone figuring I better save the battery.

We walked up to Central Park, stopping at The Plaza Hotel. I thought we should just get a room. Who knew how long we would be trapped in the city? Maybe we should just get a place to hunker down? We could get room service and watch TV. Of course, me, I wanted to feel safe and like I had a place to stay for the night. I also just wanted to be off the street. They wouldn't let us in the door. They were under lockdown. There was no way we could get them to let us pay for a room. Everything was closing down.

A street vendor was selling water so we loaded up on a few bottles. My backpack was already heavy, but I had to do something. We walked into the park and sat down on some boulders. I put the radio on loud, so other stranded people could sit with us and listen to the news. The sirens continued to blare. I sat on the boulder in stunned silence. Then, the news that one of the World Trade Towers collapsed. First I thought, well at least there is another one, but mostly I just thought of all the people that probably just died. Like so many people in NYC that day, I cried, too. We could see dark yellow smoke downtown where the Tower once stood. The city was getting hazy. A fighter jet flew over us. We HAD to get out of town somehow before they started blowing more things up.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. Eric Lehrfeld died, too.

We decided to try to find a rental car agency. We walked and walked, finally finding one, but they wouldn't rent us a car. Then they told us the bridges were closed anyway, so our only option was to stay put or walk home and for me that was 90 miles away.

We kept walking north and the second Tower fell. I couldn't believe it. I was afraid to think of what was going to happen next. I just wanted to go HOME, but I had no idea IF I was ever going to go home again!

We reached 83rd street and found a cafe that was open. The Hostess said it was going to be a long wait because some of the staff worked downtown and were having a hard time getting to work. We didn't care. I was glad to sit down, even if it did end up taking 2 hours to get a meal.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson.

We got to our table and looked at the menus. It was a completely normal thing to do, but in this context it became surreal. I excused myself to go the restroom and I saw a bank of pay phones. I think I had to call my Mother collect, but the call went through. She knew what had happened and had been furiously trying to reach me. I explained about the phones being out and what had happened. I started to cry. I said I just want to go home. She said she would come get me, but I told her no- to stay put. I told her I would call her again as soon as I knew what we were going to do and not to worry. I wanted to tell her I loved her, but we never did that and I feared she wouldn't be able to say it back to me. At least we talked.

We ordered sandwiches. Sam called his Mother. He told her we'd come to her apartment after we had eaten. It was all set.

I kept listening to the radio, hoping for news that the trains would be running again soon. Just as we were about to leave, they made the announcement that the trains were going to run, but with limited service! It was almost 5pm.

We found a cab and took it north to the 125th Street Station. We climbed two flights of stairs to get to the platform. Just as we reached the top, a train pulled up. I didn't care WHERE it was going. It was leaving the city and I was getting on it-even if it went up the Hudson line to Brewster, NY when I knew my car would be 100 miles in a different direction. I didn't care. Plus, who knew if they were going to shut the trains down AGAIN soon?

We got on the train; just about the last two empty seats. Sam fell asleep almost immediately after we sat down. I was too wired and just kept looking around at the passengers and out the window. The sky was hazier than before. There was a lot of smoke covering the city.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. I have NO IDEA why someone had a CAT sitting by the memorial, but the owner was nearby.

A woman got on the train. Her expression was grim; like she just found out she had cancer. She was wearing a business suit. Then, I realized what was odd about her. Her shoes were covered in white ash. Some of it was sprinkled on her clothes. She must have been downtown. I felt so sorry for her. I wanted to give her a hug, but you just don't do that in New York City.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson.

The train pulled out of the station. It was going to stop at EVERY stop until New Haven. It meant a very long train ride, but I didn't care. We were getting out of New York and I could go HOME. HOME. HOME.

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September 11th changed so many people's lives, including mine. After I got my car, I drove back towards the City, to Sam's apartment in Mamaroneck, NY. I was afraid for him, living so close to the city, so I offered that he could come stay with me for a few days and that he should bring his cats, Nick and Nora, too. I only had two cats, so it was no big deal.

As we drove back to his place, I saw a highway sign that was flashing a message: NEW YORK CITY IS CLOSED. That's all it said. I will never forget seeing that for the rest of my life.

Before September 11th, I had moved on from Sam. We were just friends. After September 11th, things changed. I was so disappointed in my boyfriend's reaction, even after I got home safely, that it made me take a closer look at that relationship. Over time, I came to the realization that I needed to end things and that maybe I needed to give Sam another chance.

It took a very long time for us to break off with our partners and to being again. A lot of trust had been lost over the years, but Sept. 11th helped us see each other in a different light. It gave us the fuel to try again. A few years later, Sam moved in and Nick and Nora became my kitties, too.

I also realized I couldn't work in NYC any more. I stuck it out for a few more months, but after that there was a work slowdown and they didn't call me and I didn't call them. It meant I would have to do without, but some how I would find a way to keep my home. Things are just as tough now, as they were then, but at least I have Sam in my life and I know that if tragedy should strike again, he's a person I can rely on.

Tags Click a link below to find more articles on that topic.

BlogPaws 2011: The Next Few Hours

Maria was certain something was terribly wrong with Amberly. The cat is very small to begin with and was still healing from spay surgery that was done 10 days prior. What was making the cat's belly distend? Then Maria mentioned very smelly poop, which can be a sign of Giardia. I told her I thought maybe it was worms or just the effects from a long ride in the car. She felt it was something worse than that-perhaps life threatening! I promised I'd find a Vet. She said they would be arriving in about an hour. I had to act quickly.

Thankfully, Caroline Golon, one of the Founders of BlogPaws, was able to find a Vet. She didn't tell me she was going to find me a really cute Vet to boot..and one who does Acupuncture and Wellness! I wish I had had time to have a conversation with Dr. Patrick Mahaney, instead of pleading for his advice!

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©2011 Robin A.F Olson. Margaret Gates, Dr. Patrick Mahaney, & Me just after the phone call..and the relief that all was well for Amberly.

Margaret Gates, from Feline Nutrition, was with me. We were both giving Dr Patrick big-eyed “Puss-in-boots” look, asking if he wouldn't mind talking to us about this cat problem we had. Of course Dr. Patrick did not see Amberly, nor could he advise us since he's from California and not licensed in Virginia, but it didn't hurt to ask for his opinion, which he was gracious enough to give us. I put Dr. Patrick on the phone with Maria while my heart raced. It was 4:45pm-in fifteen minutes, the Pettie Award winners were going to be announced via the web. Almost all of the nominees were at BlogPaws and we all sincerely wanted to watch the broadcast, but I had to make sure Amberly was all right over anything else.

Thankfully, Dr. Patrick agreed that Amberly needed to be de-wormed and I promised to get a stool sample over to my vet when we got to Connecticut. As a personal THANK YOU to Dr. Patrick, I'd love it if you ALL go visit his web site: http://www.patrickmahaney.com/blog/ and LIKE him (what's not to like?!) on FACEBOOK!

With that issue put to rest, Margaret and I started to look for the room where we could watch the Pettie Awards. I have to note that for some reason, Dogtime Media pulled out of attending BlogPaws 2011 about 2 weeks before the Conference. Many of us were very upset about this because there would be no formal ceremony, handing out of trophies and no chance to give that acceptance speech we'd all been planning. The Petties were going to be broadcast as a pre-tapped video.

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Instead, we were sent off to a private room with a nice big screen projection setup. Everyone else was off to a screening of a new Disney movie called Spookie Buddies. About 20 of us were sitting around waiting for something to happen. I didn't see any computer hooked up to the screen so I ran off looking for help. Michael, our very nice A/V guy, got there with minutes to spare! My heart started racing. We were all getting nervous with anticipation.

Then I started getting texts from Maria. They were going to arrive in about 15 minutes! What was I to do? Make them sit out in the hot car? I had to go meet them, but I just HAD to see who was going to WIN!! Covered in Cat Hair was up for TWO awards!

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Then the video began, featuring Leslie Smith, Editor at Dogtime.com. We all started buzzing...first up, our friends Kate Benjamin of ModernCat and JaneA Kelly of Paws & Effect! When Kate won, we all erupted in screams and clapping! I wish both ladies could have won, though.

The awards were being announced at lightning speed. Next up was one of my categories: Best Social Integration! Stephanie Harwin of Catsparella won! I was very happy for her, but then I worried..it was my best shot to win. There was no way I was going to win for Best Cat Blog. The competition was way too stiff.

My heart felt like it was going to bust out of my chest. Maria was texting me. They were about to arrive! My category finally came up. I thought to myself-it's about time I was a WINNER. After the pure HELL of the past few weeks, I was due..due for something good to happen and I'd worked very hard for 5 years writing Covered in Cat Hair. Surely, I had a shot, but it also meant that my good friend, Ingrid wouldn't win and I wanted her to win, too.

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The intro screen came up...

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They announced the four finalists....

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And when they said MY NAME and COVERED IN CAT HAIR, I jumped out of my seat and threw my hands over my head and yelled; OH MY GOD!!!!!

Ingrid was right there, giving me a big hug. She was so gracious and I knew from our talks that we both would be happy if either of us won. I wanted to cry. I was so happy, but I had to leave the room! Bobby and Maria had arrived and were waiting in the Lobby. They'd just driven 10 hours. I was not going to make them wait.

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©2011 Robin A.F Olson. Just after the WIN!

I floated out of the room and there were lots of folks from the show milling about. I wanted to scream “I WON I WON!!!” but I had to drop the urge and get back to business. I could celebrate later.

And then, across the lobby, I saw Bobby and Maria walking towards me. It was so odd. I knew what they looked like and we'd talked many time over the past year, but here they were in the flesh, like nothing particularly strange was going on. I'd been looking forward to this moment for a long time, but I could see how tired and hot they were so I got them to sit down and got them a drink. As I was walking back, I saw everyone leaving the room where I just watched part of the Petties. Ingrid, it seems, won for Best Pet Blog-the TOP honor of ALL the awards! I WAS SO HAPPY FOR HER and now things just felt complete! EVERY award-other than than the Best DOG Blog, was WON BY A CAT WRITER!!!!!

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©2011 Robin A.F Olson. Bobby & I cuddle with Peri & Amberly.

And then, like moths to a furry-flame, the cat writing ladies managed to find that Amberly and her kittens were in the lobby and within seconds they were all cooing and smiling over their new friends. Maria and Bobby were good sports. I think the energy in the room revived them and all the fussing about the kittens was a treat to see. What was even better was that most of us had just won a Pettie Award and it felt so empowering for us to be together! It was a moment I really cherished.

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©2011 Robin A.F Olson. Ingrid King (left), Foster Mama-Maria (seated), Tamar Arslanian of I Have Cat (rear), Margaret Gates of Feline Nutrition and Kate Benjamin of ModernCat (right)

I think I had about fifteen minutes of feeling good, happy, visiting with everyone...then, as things often do...the shit hit the fan. One of the ladies came up to me holding BlueBelle. She said something was wrong. I looked at the incision on Blue's belly. She'd been spayed 10 days earlier. I have to say the "person" who did the spay did a terrible job. I've never had to put kittens on antibiotics after being spayed because they got an infection. Their incisions were horrible. Here was Blue, very calm and serene and the glue had popped and her incision was opening up and was bleeding.

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©2011 Robin A.F Olson. Sam & Bobby with Periwinkle & Amberly.

We were all supposed to go out to dinner to celebrate, but I had to find a Vet and this time we were going to need to do more than just have a consultation about what to do. We had no idea where Dr. Patrick was and I had no idea what to do next. BlueBelle was in trouble and we had to do something for her right away.

Find out what happens next...in tomorrow's post!

If you'd like to see the Pettie Awards presentation, just go HERE to see the show and a complete list of all the WINNERS!

Basil & Nigel's Big Day Out & How to Slim Down the Siblings

Basil & Nigel are very lucky. Not only was I willing to go to bat for them, but TWO groups; the Siamese Cat Rescue Center and the Humane Society of Forsyth County both stepped forward to offer the boys a safe place to live until they find their forever home. Thank you, again to HSFC for taking them on!

Before the boys could go anywhere their first stop was East Lake Vet for a checkup! There the Vet would do a snap test-a simple blood test that indicates if the cats have Feline Leukemia or FIV+. This is the WORST part of doing rescue-not the late nights, phone calls, millions of emails...waiting to find out if the snap test results are positive is dreadful. If the boys were sick, very few rescues would take them and their future happiness would be in peril.

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©2011 Maria S. Nigel waits to meet the Vet.

This afternoon, while I was waiting for a call from Bobby, I got an email. Maria surprised me with photos of the boys. Apparently she was in the area when Bobby brought the boys to the Vet so she stopped by. The subject line of her email was: “neg/neg” I know what that means! The boys are NOT SICK! WOOOOOOHOOOO!

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©2011 Maria S. Nigel explores the exam room.

More details about them came in: 1) Overall they're quite healthy! 2) Nigel weighs 27 1/2 pounds, while shy-guy Basil weighs 21 1/2 pounds, 3) they didn't have any sign of fleas or flea dirt, so they must have been indoors, 4) Poor Nigel's belly is burned. It appears both cats must have been confined to a VERY SMALL area. Possibly Nigel had to lay on bedding that was soaked in urine for a long time.

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©2011 Maria S. What a face! Hi Nigel!

In a way, I'm glad we will never really know what happened to Nigel because it would kill me to find out. Nigel is a big love bug and even tried to jump onto the exam table, but because he's so big, he didn't make it and fell backwards. He wasn't hurt, but it's so sad he's trapped in that big body. It's only temporary, but still, it's brutal to see a beautiful animal suffering like that. It's just wrong.

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©2011 Maria S. Nigel has dreamy blue eyes!

We wonder if the boys might be Burmese/Siamese mixes due to their dark coloring. I'm not well versed in what makes a siamese. Maybe one of you might help us figure that out? Bobby told me their eyes are a very beautiful blue and that they're both good cats.

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©2011 Maria S. Basil is trying to look tiny. No one notice him!

Basil is shy. We don't know if he was always like this or it was due to cruel treatment. Fortunately he is NOT aggressive, just a scaredy-cat. He didn't make a fuss when he was examined. I think he just wanted to get out of there an into a small dark place...okay a big dark place, to hide.

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©2011 Maria S. Basil is a cutie!

Later in the day, I got a few emails from Bobbie, who has graciously offered to foster the cats for the next 10 days or so. Bobbie said that Nigel was enjoying himself, but that Basil was hiding in the cat tree (which is not really bad since he wasn't hiding under a bed and was up high so he will be less stressed). That Basil wasn't eating their new grain-free canned food, to which I was not surprised to hear. Transitioning the cats to high quality canned food will be tough. Nigel DID eat, but wanted to eat alot more than he should, so Bobbie took it away and went back to letting them get used to their new home.

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©2011 Maria S. Poor Nigel. His belly wasn't too bad. He'll just need to be wiped down with an antibiotic wipe every day until he heals.

Most people know that you can't put a cat on a diet. Their metabolism is very different from that of a human. Cats get energy from protein, not carbs, as we do. They also can develop “fatty liver” or hepatic lipidosis if you try to get them to lose weight too fast. HL is deadly and NOT to be messed with.

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©2011 Bobbie Coker. Apparently Nigel enjoys his new foster home with Bobbie very much!

I did some research and found some helpful tools that I could use to determine what these cats need for calories. Sadly, most cat food can labels do not list carbs or calories so you have to do the dreaded “M” word...MATH! This is a starting point. I realize I need to write a lot more about nutrition and feeding guidelines, but that will have to wait. For now, give this a try...

Also, from what I can tell, THIS IS NOT AN EXACT SCIENCE and every cat has different requirements for caloric intake so you MUST keep that in mind.

To start, you have to know how much your cat weighs, then convert pounds into KG. You can do that HERE

Next you have to use a Enteral Nutrition Calculator (ACK!) to figure out how many calories your cat needs. Based on Basil's weight-we'll call it 21 pounds. He would be 9.52 kg and his BER (basal energy requirement) is 355.59 kcal/day. That would be to MAINTAIN the weight he is now. The rest of the calculator is for sick cats or cats that need extra caloric intake. You probably don't need to use that, but I used this to find out that I am grossly under-feeding Bob, which is probably why he's a bag of bones right now. I've already started him on a different feeding regime to help him out.

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©2011 Bobbie Coker. We hope you'll come out soon to visit, Basil!

The last step is to grab a can of whatever you're feeding your cat and READ THE LABEL. This Cat Food Nutrition Calculator from the Cornell Book of Cats is a start, but I discovered that it gave me one number and I saw a calorie listing on the cat food that said it had 40 more calories than the calculator determined! You can see why this is not an exact science!

Going by what it says on the label, fill in the percentages in the yellowed out area of the form. You'll copy the following information from the label: percent of Protein, Fat, Fiber, Moisture & Ash/Other Minerals. Once you do that, it will calculate how many calories are in every 100g of food.

The labels I checked show the gram weight of the food on the front, under the Net Weight. So for example, one can was 156 g in weight (a typical 5.5 oz “tuna can” size) and 106 calories per 100 g of food. That's roughly 165 calories per can. What shocked me was the HUGE difference from one brand of food to another. The one I thought was very high in calories was actually quite low!

Once you compare what your cat needs versus what it's eating, you'll see why you might have a tubby tabby on your hands. Now that we know the numbers, we can adjust Basil and Nigel's intake accordingly, but first things first...they need to settle down and get used to eating different food. Breaking them off the habit of eating dry will be tough, but in time they will adjust, especially since they don't have a phone and can't order a pizza behind our backs!

Lastly, we're still trying to fund our ChipIn for the boys. It's not a lot, but their food is costly and the Vet bill was rather big. If you can donate the cost of a cup of coffee to the boys, that would be great! If you can do more, even better. In a way, we all helped save the lives of Nigel and Basil because I couldn't help them, if you didn't help us with donations, so great work, TEAM CiCH!

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