Who Knew?

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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Limping Along.

On October 29th a freak snowstorm hit Connecticut. It let a brutal mess of downed trees and limbs, robbing most of the state of power. We had no light, heat or water for a week and our cable/internet was out for 9 days. I'm still trying to recover from the damage, the lost time and the pressing needs of running a cat rescue pretty much on my own. I'm gearing up to posting more stories. Just bear with me a bit longer.

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©2011 Maria S. Remember this photo? Amberly's babies-when they were baby-sized!

I've got some updates to share on our former foster babies, the arrival of our snowshoe sisters, the Pumpkin Patch boys, as well as some sweet photos of Amberly's family. There's also going to be a story about a little kitten, struggling to survive on his own and the horrific secret he had inside him. It's a story of how one kind soul reached out and stood by this cat no matter what it took. We'll also be having more give-aways on some truly fun products (hint: one is full of catnip!) so I hope you'll make sure to check back here soon or visit us on Facebook for more updates.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Bluebelle, Jack LiLac & Periwinkle (left to right) looking all grown up! Jack is as big as his mama, Amberly-at just over six pounds.

Until then, I hope you enjoy this sneak peek of brand new photos of some of Amberly's family-who are still hoping to find their forever homes! We're having an Adoption Event on Saturday, so stop by and visit if you're in the area! Details are on our web site.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Blaze, as usual, being nutty!

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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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My First Neuter & My Last Bowl of Clam Chowder.

Have you ever seen something, then couldn't erase the image from your mind? This often happens during a tragic, high-stress event, like seeing your dad naked (by accident, of course!) or when you see a woman on the subway wearing stretchy leggings. She has a REALLY BIG BUTT. She's tired, standing in the subway car, so she leans her back against a metal support pole. Her huge buttcheeks part slightly, as she presses against the pole, which forces the metal support into her butt-crack! (This is why I avoid touching ANYTHING on the subway). I'm sure some scientist could describe why our memories lock down certain events, but all I can say is I just witnessed a kitten being neutered and now I can't unsee what I saw!

The event keeps looping over and over in my head. After all the cats I've had neutered over the years, I finally got to see it done. After the shock of watching it wore off a bit, I realized, WHY DO VETS CHARGE SO MUCH FOR THIS? It took all of a MINUTE to do the surgery! SHAME ON VETS FOR CHARGING MORE THAN $50.00 for this procedure!

Connie and I arrived at the Vet's office nice and early. She brought all five kittens, even though only the three boys were going to be neutered. Neither of us were positive we HAD three boys so better to bring them oll, just in case-plus they all needed a booster FVRCP shot, so now was a good time.

It was really lovely to see the kittens again. It'd been only a few days since they went to Aunt Connie's but I was missing them. They all sat serenely in their cat carrier, wondering what was going on, no doubt. I blurted out; “You're gettin' your balls cut off soon!” and the Vet tech scolded me for letting the “cat out of the bag.” She hissed; “Don't say that out loud! You'll upset them!” The kittens gave me a dirty look. I just shrugged and tried to look innocent.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. The gang just before surgery time.

Dr. M came out and said hello. Connie and I looked at each other. I knew what she was thinking. She didn't want to go in the back room. Neither did I. My heart started to race and my hands got cold. This wouldn't be so bad. We didn't have to watch. We just had to help a bit, then wait for the Vet to do his part, then we would help the kittens as they woke up.

We were taken into a long room that was a combination of shelved storage-a stockpile of drugs, syringes and other things. I mostly kept my head down, afraid to look around. The room was worn, the building was fairly old and this back room needed an update. There was a small, elevated table with a towel over it at the end of the room, parallel to the shelves. The Vet indicated that we could put the cat carrier on the table. I thought this was the prep area and that we'd be going into a surgical suite with a stainless steel operating table with bottles of magic knockout gas nearby.

Dr. M took one of the kittens out of the carrier-Ruby, the boy cat with the girl name. The Dr. weighed him, then made some notes. He opened a safe and took out a small vial. He drew some of the contents into the syringe. Then he told Connie to hold Ruby down tightly and to “karate chop” the cat's back leg to keep it down and force the vein to appear. Then we both realized he was going to do the neutering RIGHT NOW, RIGHT HERE ON THE TABLE. Did he wash his hands first? I had just put hand sanitizer on my hands, but what the heck? Connie looked like she was going to panic and I didn't blame her a bit. We both thought we didn't HAVE TO SEE the surgery and here we were about to SEE THE SURGERY! We couldn't RUN AWAY! This was the agreement. We help the Vet, he gives us a big disount.

Connie turned away. Dr. M injected the fluid into Ruby's vein. The kitten quickly went limp, his tongue hung out of his mouth. I petted him and said it was going to be OK. Then before I could turn away, Dr. M made a tiny incision across Ruby's scrotum, then pulled the fur down, exposing his tiny little testicles. At first I was amazed at seeing them, but then, he grabbed one of them and gave it a TUG. It stretched out on a flesh colored tether about FOUR INCHES LONG! He twisted it around. Did he put a knot in it? I felt woozy. Then, just as quickly, he took an object out of a sealed package and sliced the tether at its' base. WOAH! One nut down, one to go.

I held my hand up to help cover Connie's eyes. I didn't realize I was talking until Connie told me later, but apparently I was saying; “WOW! Look at that! Oh my GOD! Connie, it's not that bad, but WOAH! WOW! I will NEVER EAT CLAM CHOWDER AGAIN!”

Dr. M quickly repeated the procedure on the other testicle. In a few seconds he was done. Connie let go of Ruby and I picked him up. I began to gently rock him and pet him. In a few moments he began to wake up. His tongue hung out of his mouth and Connie said he drooled. He felt so limp in my arms. It reminded me of the day Bob died. I didn't want to cry. I just focused on Ruby. He was ok, but WOW...I did not think I could help do this two more times!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Sweet Ruby, who may be renamed Inky.

It turns out we didn't have to watch two more times because we have THREE GIRLS and TWO BOYS! The girls got their booster shot and Spot was the only other male. Sadly, Spot was very difficult to knock out. Dr. M had to try a few things-finally we had to bring him into the surgical suite and I had to hold a tiny gas mask over Spot's face until his body went limp in my hands. It was very unnerving. Dr. M. went to work quickly and in a few moments Spot was done, too. I was told it would take a lot longer for him to wake up, so I just held him so he could breathe easily and tried not to freak out over him being so very limp in my arms.

Ruby was still weak, but awake. Then Dr. M said he was interested in ADOPTING a kitten! He had two cats and one died a few months ago. He had plans to adopt another cat, but it didn't work out. He was looking for another black and white cat! BINGO! We had THREE! He asked which one was the most outgoing? Friendly? Sweet? They all were great, but he focused on Ruby, though it was tough to know how friendly he was based on him being wobbly and out-of-it. Then I showed him photos from my blog post about the Flying Zombie Kittens. He LOVED the photos and when he realized Spot was jumping more often than the others, his attention turned to him.

In the end he decided to let both kittens recover in his office, then he'd take them both home and see how they did with his two kids and his other cat! We said we would take back the one he didn't want, then he said he'd probably end up with both since each kid would probably want their own cat.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Spot before his surgery.

We didn't ask him to fill out any application. We didn't do a home visit. We didn't even ask how old his kids were! We just numbly nodded our heads, yes. We were both in a trance. I kept seeing tiny testicles getting chopped off and Connie was focusing on remaining cool even though I found out later that blood freaks her out! I was a bit jealous that my guys didn't get adopted, but I was really GLAD these two had a good chance. My goodness-a VET for an adopter? Does it get any better?

As we walked out of the office, Dr. M. said thanks for helping him neuter HIS cats! Geez, maybe he could have decided to adopt them BEFORE we had to see him do the surgery? Now my brain hurts and I'm really glad Sam didn't see that surgery! He better keep in mind that now I know HOW to do a neuter so he better shape up.

As for Connie, she never wants to do this again! I can't say I blame her one bit, but I know I'll be back. The price is too good and Dr. M is two hours closer than the low cost S/N clinic. I hope I don't have to see him do a spay surgery, but I have this feeling it will be the next thing I see that will be featured in my “greatest hits of stuff that freaks me out that I've seen and can't unsee.”

Attack of the Flying Zombie Kittens

I had a blast kittensitting for my friends at Animals in Distress last week. Their five frisky felines were very friendly and joyful. It was pure delight to be around them-until, of course, they decided it would be fun to climb up my legs! Yes, they all need a CLAW TRIM! Aunt Connie came to get them on Sunday. I was sad to see them go, but it just makes me look forward to getting The Angel Babies and Bob's Pumpkin Patch kittens in the coming weeks.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Uh oh...the zombie kittens are back!

I have a bit of an exciting and surprising update to share. After scratching my head for months, trying to figure out how to approach local Vets to help my rescue, Kitten Associates, a Vet sort of fell (figuratively) into my lap.

It seems that someone who runs a rescue where I used to volunteer is mis-behaving rather badly by having an affair with the husband of one of her current volunteers! The news was quickly spread all over town by the jilted wife/volunteer with such passion that I felt like I needed to duck and hide once I heard the news. Without going into details (there are lots of other issues going on that I can't speak about that make this situation a bit more touchy) or pointing fingers, let's just say that one of the repercussions of these events was that one of the local vets said he didn't want to work with this person's rescue group any longer.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.

When I heard this news I thought either the Vet would NEVER want to work with another rescue group again, or that perhaps he just didn't want the emotional issues to deal with, but would need time to want to help out again. Feeling rather desperate to find a low-cost Vet, I thought the worst thing he could do was say NO if I asked for his help.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. How not to weigh the kittens..or maybe just divide by two?

What surprised me was that before I could even try to pitch why he should work with us, he said, YES! He just wants to help cats. He's willing to donate some time to K.A. every month. During that time he won't charge me an office visit and will help reduce costs across the board for vaccinations, spay surgeries and anything else. I wanted to cry, but he didn't even want thanks. I offered to help him by doing design work for him at a reduced rate and he didn't need it. He just wants to help a rescue, so he's going to help us.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.

Do I feel a bit creepy about asking this Vet to help us? Yes, but the future of K.A. depends on us being able to make the most of the donations we get. Because of this Vet's help, I was able to rescue two more local kittens. I have to remind myself, to paraphrase the words of this Vet, it's all about the animals and their well being. The politics and B.S. we can both do without.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Intercepted!

The interesting/challenging aspect of our arrangement is that if I ask him to spay/neuter a cat, that I HAVE TO ACT AS HIS VET TECHNICIAN. This means, shaving the girl's belly, holding them while they get their anesthesia shot, helping with them after they are out of surgery and whatever else is needed. I was told I don't have to watch the surgery-thank GOODNESS! There are things I can do and things I can learn, but there are some things I just can't do. When I have a loving connection to my foster kittens, the last thing I want to see is them knocked out and being sliced open.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Invisible kitty motorcycle rider takes a wicked turn.

Tomorrow is my first time helping neuter the three boys in this litter of black or black and white kittens! Max, Ruby (mis-named!) and Spot are ready to go. Because these are A.I.D. kittens, and I'm sharing resources with them, their Aunt Connie is going to be a Vet Tech, too. We're both going to learn about what's needed. I have to be ready for next month when the two little girls I rescued will need to be spayed. Scared? Yes, a bit. I'm Hoping I don't mess up or irritate the Vet. He's doing so much for us. I wish there was something I could do to thank him!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Stuck to the cat toy?

I guess my thanks will be to show up on time, do a good job and not cry like a baby when I see the kittens come out of surgery!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Ooo! Smells like roses!

I can't help but feel weird about all of this, but in time it will sort itself out. Just so you know, the group that lost their Vet has at least two others they work with, maybe three, so this doesn't hurt them as much at it might appear on the surface.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Off with her head!

By the way, ALL THE KITTENS FEATURED HERE ARE AVAILABLE FOR ADOPTION! They're located in southern Fairfield County, Connecticut. Visit AID's web site for adoption information.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Weeeeeee!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Zombie kitten wants your brainz!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Shy flyer.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Super stretch!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Riding an invisible rocket.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. On no! Zombie kitten on the warpath!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Umm...detachable legs?

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Excuse me, but would you please pet me?

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Woah!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Zombie kitten tries to use the force to move the cat toy closer.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Zombie kitten don't give a squat! Just walks over victim on to next plate full of brainz.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Zombiezzzzzzzzz!

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Stand By Your Man.

When what ails your cat isn't clearly defined, it's easy to lean on your Vet and assume they know all the answers. They can decide what should be done next-that's their job, right? What I'd like to suggest is you don't let them call the shots-ever-without being your cat's biggest advocate. You know your cat better than anyone else how your cat behaves-how well they eat-if they are using the litter pan and their output is normal or not. Your Vet has MANY other patients to deal with, a life to live, other distractions. It doesn't mean they don't know what they're doing, but it does mean that they don't have the time to spend endless hours on your cat's case, alone. When it comes to your cat's health care, you must be prepared to push back, ask questions and offer reminders and suggestions to your Vet to help him/her solve the case.

The longer I do cat rescue and experience health issues with fosters as well as my own cats, the more I realize that it helps my Vet if I understand the pieces to my cat's health “puzzle” as much as I can. Overlook something and that might be the one thing that ties everything together. I may not understand cat's physiology the way my Vet does, but I can provide anecdotal information and I can be the one to remember my cat's health history when my Vet might miss something while reviewing my cat's file.

Before we visited Dr Weisman this morning, I made a list of every question I had, plus I thought about Nicky's past health issues. Dr. Weisman didn't have a complete picture of Nicky's life and it was up to us to provide that to her because whatever is ailing Nicky is not blatantly obvious.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Waiting for Dr. Weisman to arrive.

It made me think of a few suggestions to share about going to the Vet. Maybe some of them will help you when you have to bring your cat to the Vet.

1. Keep a folder of your cat's health records. Sounds obvious, but if you have to look something up, it's there. If you want to compare blood work from one year to the next or can't remember if your cat was ever tested for Bartonella it's there. Yes, you can call your Vet and they should know, but what if your Vet is closed and you need to go to the Emergency Vet?

2. Do your best to understand and be able to recall every treatment and condition your cat has ever had. If you have to make a cheat sheet of notes, do that. I seem to have a good memory for what each cat has been through, so I just sit quietly and think about it and jot down questions for my Vet based on the cat's past history and include the details of his or her past I think are important to underscore.

3. Don't let your Vet tell you what to do without clearly understanding the pros and cons of what is being done. It's nice when they offer to give your cat a shot of Convenia so you don't have to give it pills, but is Convenia the RIGHT antibiotic for your cat? Should your cat even GET an antibiotic? What about other medications other treatments? Understanding is so important. In the heat of the moment, some times you don't have the luxury of looking up what side effects or dangers are in a certain medication, but if you do have time, then LOOK IT UP. Be smart. Ask a lot of questions. Make sure your Vet remembers those details about your cat that he or she may have missed.

4. Take time to think about what is best. IF YOU CAN. There are many situations where time is a luxury you do not have. There are other situations where if you take a day or week to repeat a test or see how the cat does, it's perfectly acceptable. Sometimes rushing into a treatment or surgery makes it worse or makes the case more complex. Try not to do too much at once or you won't be able to understand what changes were the ones that made the difference.

What happened with Nicky today is a very good illustration of the points, above. Sam and I were expecting that Nicky would be having exploratory surgery today. He has too many test results that show some sort of problem-and we needed to know what was going on.

We had our list and because we had spent time thinking about it, we were able to give Dr. Weisman more information about Nicky that ended up being crucial to his care, today.

Nicky has a growth on his spleen-it is likely it is benign. Older cats can get these growths, but the ultrasound Vet didn't describe the growth well enough so we know if it is a tumor. Cats don't need their spleen as they get older so if it had to be removed, Nicky would be fine.

Although Nicky's blood work does show early signs of renal disease, what Dr. W didn't know was that Nicky is in DIRE need of a DENTAL!!! Some how that information was not passed on from our Vet to Dr. Weisman. Nicky has a cervical line lesion on at least one tooth and some mild tartar that needs to be cleaned. That, alone, could be the cause for Nicky's kidney issues and that his mesenteric lymph nodes are swollen, but that wasn't the possible smoking gun.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. I DO NOT CARE TO BE IN THE CAR! WAHHHHH!

Before we knew any better and Nicky was being fed GRAIN (in his dry and canned food), Nicky's urethra would get blocked up. Eventually we spent many thousands of dollars having surgery done on Nicky to remove his penis (which can be referred to as a PU surgery) so he'd have a bigger opening to urinate through and not block up any more. Right after that we learned about diet and got him off grain. The surgery was done years ago, but once we mentioned it to Dr. W. she perked up. That one thing could be what is causing some of Nicky's symptoms and that his immune system is constantly being taxed from having that larger opening.

She also felt that possibly Nicky was having a reaction to being fed a raw diet. Sam and I aren't sold on that, but we're open to the idea that if Nicky's immune system is weaker from his bad teeth and the PU surgery, that perhaps the mild bacteria he might encounter on his food just adds to his problems.

We also showed Dr. W. Nora's blood work. She's Nicky's sister and she has no kidney issues whatsoever. Of course this is not comparing the same cats, exactly, but between Nora and Gracie's recent blood work there are no signs the diet is hurting them-rather helping if anything.

It became clear that doing anything other than a dental on Nicky wasn't necessary today. Nicky doesn't show enough clinical signs to tell us he's in crisis. None of his tests are so bad that we MUST do surgery NOW. We decided that after the dental and dose of antibiotics and some time to recover from both, that we'd re-do the ultrasound and see if anything has improved. It's possible many of these issues will lessen in severity OR get WORSE. If so, we move forward with surgery.

We're giving it a month. Right after Thanksgiving we'll re-test and see how he's doing. If he starts to show clinical signs before then, he has the surgery done sooner. It's really not a case of not going it at all, it's a case of when it's done. Sooner or later we will be facing this procedure, but today is not that day.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. My boys last night.

Nicky is on an IV for the next few hours to protect his kidneys before surgery, then they do the dental..and they remove and biopsy a growth I found on his leg while we were IN THE CAR, on the way to the VET! After that, Nicky goes back on the IV and tomorrow morning, with any luck, we'll bring him home.

I can't say we lucked out, but I think I can say we feel better about this choice. Nicky may still have cancer or renal disease or both or hyperthyroid or IBD...we just don't know yet. Maybe we caught it VERY EARLY or maybe not. We'll find out in time.

And all this happened because we saw Nicky peeing on the floor in the kitchen...

The Next Big Step for Nicky

It's getting late. I should get to bed. In less than 12 hours, we'll be seeing Dr. Weisman, Nicky's surgeon. I feel the same anxiety I felt before we went to see her with Bob. Bob's case was, at first, more clear cut. He HAD to have part of his liver removed or he'd die fairly soon. With Nicky, we don't even know for certain that we SHOULD open him up at all, but I still fear the same miserable results...the Vet saying; “I'm sorry, but...”

Over the weekend, one of my readers reached out to me. She worked for a great Vet in the Northeast for many years, who, according to her, was a fantastic diagnostician. She spoke to him about Nicky's case and right away he said NOT to do ANYTHING other than repeat Nicky's urinalysis in a few months. That what was the benefit of opening him up? I felt confused. I was so ready to move forward and now this...he asked us, through our CiCH friend, that we call him on Tuesday afternoon, when he had normal business hours, so we could talk to him.

Now what? Here we have Dr. Larry and Dr. Deb saying we need to open Nicky up. We have a long track record and trust both Vets, but this other Vet did bring up a good point-if it IS cancer and we cut into it, we can make it a lot worse.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. If you rub Nicky's head, you get full belly access!

I hate feeling conflicted about what to do. Nicky is Sam's cat. Ultimately Sam has to decide, but I'm definitely going to need to hear from Dr. Deb exactly why we need to do this now, instead of give Nicky more time and re-run all the tests again later.

Something else came up, too. Nicky may NEVER have been “snap tested” for FIV+ and Feline Leukemia! Back when Nicky was adopted he came to Sam unvetted. Sam took him to the vet and had him neutered. Did they test him then? It was 10 years ago? I wouldn't have known to test Nicky when he, Nora and Sam came to live at my house! Now I have a terrible fear of what if's going through my head...Meanwhile Nicky seems a bit down, a bit thinner, not eating quite as well as he has in the past. Is he feeling worse? We KNOW he has a bad TOOTH on top of his other issues so maybe that's what's causing his eating problems?

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Meet my belleh.

At this point it's so hard to know. I've been down this road before and it sucks. Is this our last night with Nicky as a reasonably healthy cat? Are we losing him and this is the start of that journey?

Sam has been very stoic about how he feels about Nicky. Even though the two of them are always together and I know Sam loves Nicky, dearly, Sam isn't one to wear his emotions on his sleeve. This afternoon Sam looked glum. I asked him what was wrong. He came over to me and put his arms around me and sort of sank against me. All he could manage to say was; “Don't let them take my cat from me.”

My poor Sam. My poor Nicky. I have a hard time imagining one without the other. I hope I don't have to do that any time soon. My poor boys. We'll get through this together-just like we always do. I just hope that maybe this time we luck out-whatever lucking out means. Nicky and Sam need many more years together. We just can't lose another cat. Not right now. Not so soon.

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Not Nicky.

After my father killed himself in 1999 I figured nothing bad would happen for awhile, as if I deserved a “pass” from any more pain. Of course I was wrong. I got divorced four months later and lost my biggest client.

I realize that most things that happen during my life are not about me. My father took his own life. I didn't cause that to happen, but certainly it effected me deeply, and still does. The thing is I can't help but feel a bit, well pissed when one thing after another seems to go down the drain. I asked Sam if we were being foolish to think that things were going to get better “some day.” Maybe we should just realize that life pretty much sucks, is difficult, frustrating, heartbreaking and has moments, just moments of good stuff to keep us from offing ourselves, too.

Last month after Bob died, I thought that maybe we were done with long trips to Vet Oncologists, done with digging the deep financial hole to provide Bob with the care he needed, done with heartbreak over our cats. Bob was an old cat with FIV+, two kinds of cancer and half a liver. Our next youngest cat is eleven, so certainly they would be fine for many years to come. I really wanted to take a deep breath and relax, focus on the working out some behavioral issues with the cats and get the foster cats adopted.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Nicky, this morning, getting ready to roll over and show me his belly.

I nagged at Sam to take Nicky to the Vet. I was fed up watching the cat urinate on the floor, right in front of his litter pan, often not caring if we were watching him do it. We knew it might be due to the stress in the house and the cats jockeying for position in the cat hierarchy with Bob being gone, but due diligence dictated that Nicky should be seen by Dr. Larry.

I honestly thought Nicky had a urinary tract infection or might be in the early stages of hypothyroid because he drank a lot of water (and I knew his blood sugar was normal so it wasn't diabetes).

The blood work came back and it indicated that Nicky might be in early stages of renal (kidney) failure. The next morning, Ingrid King of The Conscious Cat just posted an article by Dr. Darren Hawks about Kidney Failure that helped me understand what was possibly going on. It was devastating news, but since we caught it early, Nicky had a chance to live many more good years. Maybe it wasn't so bad after all?

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. He always gives us "lovey-dovey" looks.

But Dr. Larry wanted to do a sonogram to look at Nicky's kidneys. Sam agreed and the procedure was done yesterday afternoon. I wasn't worried. I thought we had that pass to not get bad news-Nicky is just eleven, right? He gets a raw diet and fresh spring water not our yucky well water. Sure he had some kidney issue, but maybe he just needed some antibiotics?

I was sitting at my computer, working on a project. I'd had a lousy day. An acquaintance of mine died. He was only 52 years old. He had a massive stroke last week and died on Monday morning. I had some very interesting times with him and I liked him even though he seemed to bring out the worst in my childhood friend, MaryEllen, who was dating him in those days. Now she's planning his funeral. I couldn't help but feel the weight of the ticking clock of my own life. How much time did I have left? I'm only two years younger than he was and a lot of people don't even get to be my age. I can't take it for granted I have tomorrow. It gave me pause.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Rub Mah Belleh.

Sam stood in the doorway to my office. He didn't look so good, but we've both been in fairly bad moods for lots of reasons lately. He started to talk about Nicky. He must have just gotten off the phone with Dr. Larry. They found a growth on one of Nicky's kidneys-which were both showing signs of degeneration. They found lymph nodes that were enlarged, but it wasn't renal disease, it might be CANCER.

FU@KING CANCER.

Mesenteric Lymphoma. The same thing that JUST KILLED BOB.

When I heard “lymphoma” my head buzzed and my stomach flipped. I felt like I couldn't breathe for a second. No. No. NOT NICKY. NO!

They can't be certain until they do EXPLORATORY SURGERY. Maybe it's something else? Maybe it's some sort of reaction to something else? I don't know what else it COULD BE other than some sort of cancer!!!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Nicky's view of the world is often upside down.

For the handful of you who've met Nicky, you know he's our BIG 20 pound boy who would rather lay in your arms, belly up, like a baby or get tummy rubs than do just about anything else at all. Nicky is a big sweetheart who LOVES everyone. He and his sister...and then I thought about Nora...are inseparable. She wouldn't survive without her big brother. Oh my GOD..what is happening to my cats?! We found this out just because Nicky was drinking too much water and peeing outside the litter pan. That was all we had for symptoms.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Skritches from mama.

I really thought we had more time. Now we have to scrounge for money. Nicky must have the surgery, but we are tapped out. We gave all that we had, and more, for Bob, thinking we could recover in time for the next cat health issue, but we were wrong.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. We love you, Nicky!

Later that night, after we picked up Nicky from the Vet and brought him home, I half jokingly said to Sam that I was feeling suicidal and asked him if he was, too, and he said, yes. Then he said, gesturing to the cats, but they would suffer if we died and I answered simply, we'll just take them with us when we go.

I guess we didn't get that pass we were hoping for. We'll do our best for Nicky. I don't know what that means. It's one step at a time. We need to confirm that it's lymphoma. We need to sort out what Nicky's options are and how we can provide for him. These are dark days indeed and this is just the beginning of a very sad journey for one of our beloved cats.

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