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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.”

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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Cavalcade of Cute Arrives

Okay. I have 20 cats in my house. That's a lot of cats. It doesn't seem that bad because over half of them are split into two separate rooms. At least I don't have to share my queen sized bed with all of them.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Ruby or Max, not sure which one, but this kitty is VERY SWEET, regardless of the name.

A few days ago I got a call from my BFF's at AID. Once in awhile something happens-a cat gets an upper respiratory and all HELL breaks loose. In a shelter, they'll euthanize sick animals to keep the others from getting sick, too. AID doesn't do this-EVER, but what do they do if they have a kitty with a runny nose and it spreads to other foster cats? We all only have so much room for foster cats, after all.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Beardy. Beardy? Is that a name? For reals?

I had the same thing happen to me almost two years ago when I rescued the now notorious “Santa's Team.” Of the nine cats that came off transport, ALL OF THEM were VERY SICK. A few almost died. My cats got sick, too. Then some of the fosters broke with ringworm on top of it. It was during Christmas and New Year's. I was having a nervous breakdown between vet runs every other day, the fear I'd lose a kitten and the constant care they all required--and all the extra crap that goes on during the HOLIDAYS!! The Director of the group I was with basically watched me crash and burn, saying if she didn't get a break from fostering cats SHE was going to have a nervous breakdown, too. Of course this is after she spent a few months not fostering any cats. I later learned she was just getting back at me for daring to want to make changes to her rescue group by rescuing cats right through the winter, instead of closing down for a few months. I was happy to put in the work. She just had to pay for vet care. I did everything else, but the one time I really needed help, she turned her back on me.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Conference cube meeting in session. DND.

I was very lucky all the cats survived. I couldn't have managed if Sam hadn't helped me. I was angry, I cried and flipped out. It was NOT the way to learn how to care for cats with URIs. I could have handled it better than I did, but I didn't know what I was doing. It's one of those things where you have to go through it and on the other side, you've learned and can handle it better when it happens again. Was the Director doing me a favor letting me struggle so much? No. She hung me out to dry. She said "you're on your own" when I asked if I could rescue those cats, but I took it to mean, I would care for them and get them adopted, but heck, if they were near DEATH, certainly that voided any agreement we had? Guess not.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Beardy likes Auntie Ingrid's present!

So when another rescue group was in a similar jam, I didn't turn my back on them. Doing cat rescue is not about playing games or being passive aggressive to make a point. It's about the CATS. That's why I started Kitten Associates, so we could truly be about the cats and that's it.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Spot. Where is the spot this cat is named after?

On Saturday afternoon, Connie arrived with a giant cat carrier with little bitty kittens in it. They're already 8 weeks old but they seem tiny compared to Amberly's kittens. They're sweet little love muffins. I didn't expect it to be such a pleasure to have 5 more cats in the house. They're in the DOOD's old bathroom and get to use his nifty cat tree. (thanks to our friend, Amy for donating it!) The energy level in that room is amazing. I sat with them, taking photos, while they played around my feet. EVERYTHING in the room had the potential to be a toy. What a great mantra that would be for how we live our life-to look at everything and see the joy in it.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Ruby, BB and Max.

I'm not sure of the names of these babies. From some reference photos I was sent I think they are BB, Beardy, Spot, Ruby and Max.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.

There's not much more to say about them, other than it's nice to have them here and I hope they'll all find their forever homes soon. Until then I've reached my intake limit on cats!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Wave to your new friends!

I hope...

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.

Enjoy the photos!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Watching the washing!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Oh Spot, you're sooo cute!

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Chaos-Central or Is My Cat Sick?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The inappropriate peeing stopped.

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

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

Then there's Gracie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Was I?

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

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©2011 Maria S. Mikey!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson.

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

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

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

But the train didn't move.

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

Oh no! Now what do we do?

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

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

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

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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9|11: A Look Back...Part 1 of 2

The alarm went off. It was 5AM. My stomach did a flipflop, a jolt of adrenaline made me feel sick. I knew it was from anxiety. I didn't want to get up. I wanted to sleep. I was exhausted and it was only Tuesday, three more days until I was off on Friday and then I'd have to do it all over again on Monday.

But I had to get to work. I was living alone, was divorced and had a huge nut to crack every month-utilities, mortgage, credit card bills. I loved my house and my life in the woods, but my home was meant for a family, not a single woman. I had to do whatever it took to make a living, even if I was getting sick from the stress.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. Squeegee.

I ran to the bathroom and got sick, as I did pretty much every day I had to work. I tried to calm down, but I knew my little hamster-on-the-wheel schedule. Go to the bathroom, get dressed, put on makeup. I showered the night before so I wouldn't have to do it in the morning. I put down some dry food and fresh water for my cats, Stanley and Squeegee. I went to the bathroom two more times, then I frantically checked my backpack to make sure I had everything I needed: cell phone, check, charger, check, money, powerbook, adapter, job files, keys...yep...Train pass! Yes. I had it in a holder that I wore around my neck. It shared a space with the electronic key card that would get me into the building where I worked. Then I had an odd thought “bring your camera.” I didn't know why I thought that and with my anxiety building, I had to get going or I'd miss the Express train, I dis missed the thought and left my camera at home.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. Lovely Stanley.

It was a gorgeous day; cool, crisp with a vivid blue sky. The sun was coming up as I got into my car. If I wanted to get parked and into the station, I'd have to get moving. My stomach protested but I didn't have anything left in me. I purposely didn't eat until I got to work. I didn't want to vomit on the train-again.

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©2003 Robin A.F. Olson. My "lello car"...I had it for 14 years and sold it with 189,000 miles on it.

I hopped into my yellow Mustang GT. How I loved that car. It was a few moments of freedom as I sped my way through the rural towns on the way to Bridgeport, CT.

As the winding, tree lined roads gave way to highways, my gut tensed up even more. I REALLY did not want to GO. My heart was racing. I just had to press on. They were expecting me.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. Bridgeport station-another early morning arrival.

I got parked, then walked a few blocks to the station. It's raised above the ground, a few stories high, so it can meet the level of the tracks. It's an ugly, flat gray concrete building. Sounds echo. Even with only a few people there it's noisy. The announcer hasn't made any track changes yet, so I know to wait on track 3, but first...gotta go to the bathroom one more time; going on the train is about as unpleasant a task as I can imagine.

I drag myself over to wait on the platform after I wash up. My heart is thudding. I'm a few minutes early. I can make the Express-which is good because it's at least 20 minutes faster than the Local. The problem-is it tends to be quite full by the time it reaches Bridgeport. I have a plan of where to stand on the platform to get a good seat towards the back of the train, once it arrives. I have a plan for which seat to choose-not near the bathroom, it usually smells terrible, not in the middle of a 3-seat row, not near anyone, if possible, on the end of the row, so I can get up if I need to.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. Ugh. The train arrives. Last chance to turn around and go back home.

Once the train arrives and I get a seat, I start to relax a little bit. I want to cry, but I made it. I won't be late getting to work. I stow my bag. I don't want to be like the others, fussing with their laptops or reading the Wall St. Journal. Most of the people on the train are men, many in suits. Most of them irritate me because they can't sit still, look out the window, sit quietly. A few have to talk on their cell phones. Who do you need to talk to at barely 7AM? They're self important, self centered jerks. I wish they would shut up. Me, I'm going to try to rest. I know I won't sleep, even though my stop is the last one. There's one more stop before the train goes Express and that one will fill up the train to beyond capacity. I've had to stand all the way a few times. It sucks. The train service should be so much better. They raise the fares all the time, but the cars are gross, the seats tacky and there just isn't enough room. I put my hand on my badge holder, ready to flash my monthly pass at the Conductor when he walks past. I loath the “click, click, click” sound of his hole punch. It reminds me of where I'm going and that I'm stuck on this train for the next hour and twenty minutes-IF we're on time. The pass cost me more than $400 a month, I find it ironic that I have to work where I don't want to be, to pay for a train pass that takes me where I don't want to go.

I shut my eyes as I try to prop myself into a position where I can rest. I think about my boyfriend, Rich. I can only see him every other weekend or so. He lives in Boston. My heart starts to slow down to a normal pace. My stomach is empty and complaining, but at least I didn't get sick. The train is loud as it clacks along the tracks. At times it sways violently. I try not to notice, but it feels like we're going too fast and about to lose control. I feel that way about my life.

I have 90 more minutes to rest and try to prepare myself for the day. I work at a Marketing/Promotions firm as a freelance Art Director. It's a few blocks walk from the Terminal. I have some cereal packaging layouts to work on today. Hopefully, I won't have to work late. My commute is 2 hours and 40 minutes, each way.

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©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. View out the window.

At least it's not raining, a really nice day. As I close my eyes, I think about my Brother, his birthday is in a few days, September 13th. I think about how most people think that number is unlucky, but my family always felt that the 13th was a lucky number because my brother and father were both born on the 13th of the month. I can't remember what we're doing to celebrate Dan's birthday, I'll have to call my Mother later and ask her.

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©2005 Robin A.F. Olson. Empire State Building-2 blocks from where I worked.

It's only September 11, 2001. I have time. Once I arrive at Grand Central Terminal, I can get my brother a Birthday card. There are nice greeting card shops in New York City. It's a lovely day. I really shouldn't be so miserable.

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BlogPaws 2011: The Final Hours & Hurricane Irene.

It's a good thing I was at a conference full of pet lovers because sure enough Dorian Wagner, of Your Daily Cute, who had been playing with one of the kittens, jumped up when I said I needed a Vet and said she knew where to find one. She made a quick call and the Vet popped her head up from across the room, waving over the top of a low room divider. We hustled BlueBelle over to her. She was very calm and relaxed, which was the polar opposite to how I was feeling. She was perfectly willing to asses BlueBelle's incision.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Kate Benjamin and BlueBelle.

She gently turned BlueBelle over and looked at her little belly. There was a bright red, open area. We told her about the crappy spay surgery. She said she thought that the glue (the GLUE?) had failed and popped the incision open, but that there should have been stitches inside the kitten that would hold her abdomen closed. She was concerned about infection and the wound opening further. I asked what I could do and she said to find some Crazy Glue!

The clock is ticking. We have to leave for dinner soon. Bobby and Maria are really tired and hungry. I just won a big award, but now I must find Crazy Glue in a hotel that has a tiny gift shop and NO OTHER SHOPS anywhere close by.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Ingrid with Truffles.

The front desk offered me a dried up tube that we couldn't even get the top off of, so I tried the gift shop. They DID have some glue! Okay! Great! I ran over to the Vet and the small gathering of ladies around the kitten. Now the Vet says she really needs some sterile saline solution, some betadine and a syringe with no needle. Yeah. I can get that...WHERE CAN I GET THAT? My mind is spinning! I have to HURRY. Someone figures out there is a drug store a few miles away. It's rush hour in the D.C. area. We have no idea where we are going, but I grab Sam and he says he will drive me over to get the things we need. Meanwhile there are about 20 people wondering what is going on and some of them have grumbling bellies. Thankfully, Ingrid King, said she would call the restaurant and change the reservation! WHEW...okay...time to RUN!

But wait...can I get the first aid kit from the front desk? Sure! I was running back and forth between the front desk, the vet, the gift shop, Bobby & Maria and Ingrid. My head was getting ready to spin off my neck. There was nothing much in the kit. The woman at the front desk said that the night before had been a busy night for injuries in the hotel and that the kit was mostly empty!! Still, I brought it over for the Vet to take a look though..but it was sorely lacking so I returned it.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Snack time in the hotel room!

We got an address for a local pharmacy and just hoped for the best. Sam started driving and the GPS wanted us to go in a different direction than the point by point directions we had from GoogleMaps. Crap! What to do? We just followed the GPS hoping it wouldn't route us into a lake.

The traffic was TERRIBLE. No one was moving. Tick, tick, tick...HURRY! I wanted to JUMP OUT OF MY SKIN! It seemed like the drivers in front of us had cotton shoved in their brain hole because they were driving really slowly and they wouldn't try to cross traffic to turn into the parking lot!

Once we got into the lot, it was packed full of cars. Sam told me to go into the store and he would circle around.

It took me a few minutes to find most everything, but I had to wait for someone to help me with the syringe, so I stood there on line, tapping my leg, wishing they would HURRY already!

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Time to head to Connecticut.

I got what I needed...$34 for this? Geez! Not complaining, but really? I jumped into the car and Sam sped off. Traffic back to the hotel wasn't as bad. My cell phone rang “where are you? we have another kitten that needs help!”

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Tree removal trucks getting into position before Hurricane Irene hits.

SHIT!

We got back to the hotel and the Vet said she wanted the First Aid Kit after all...so I ran back to get it...and she needed a place to work on the kittens. Truffles incision looked infected and needed to be cleaned out, too. We agreed to go to my hotel room so she could work on the bathroom counter.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Moments after arriving in their new home.

We loaded up all the cats, which saddened all the cat lady bloggers. They were not deterred. Many of them came upstairs with us! Before anything was done we had to promise not to say who the Vet was because like everyone at the conference, she was licensed in another state-even though she was just going to clean out a wound and put a drop of glue on the skin. I left her to do her thing while a few of the ladies watched the procedure. I needed to SIT DOWN and try to spend some time with Bobby and Maria, who were clearly energized by all that was going on, but I knew they needed to eat and have a chance to relax.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Blaze, Peri and Jack, ready to play.

The kittens did great. Their bellies patched up and looking better, the Vet excused herself and I thanked her profusely as she left our room! Where could I get a housecall in a hotel for kittens that needed help-RIGHT HERE! How lucky we were! We had antibiotics with us that the kittens were already getting so we kept them on their meds. We let them out of the cat carrier to run around in the hotel room while we all went out for dinner-at last! Everything was going to be ok now, right?

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. BlueBelle is doing fine now.

And it was...we had dinner with lots of PETTIE-WINNING cat lady bloggers, along with Maria, Bobby & Sam. We had a great time, great food, but sadly some of us had Hurricane Irene on our minds. Sam and I reluctantly decided we needed to leave early in the morning. Time was running out. We'd had our one day at BlogPaws and asking for another would potentially put us in peril...and the kittens, too, so we decided to call it a night.

Instead of going to bed, everyone came back up to our room to play with the kittens some more! Kate was on her belly, shooting videos of the kittens playing. Amberly took a huge stinky poop (we had a litter pan on hand) and we couldn't open the windows! No one cared. They were all cooing and laughing. I'd forgotten that I'm used to being around kittens most of the time and for them, it was more of a rare treat. It was really lovely to sit on the floor and watch the kittens and watch the joy and the delight on everyone's faces.

We bid everyone good night. We had to pack. Bobby & Maria still had 10 more miles to drive before they could get some sleep. For awhile I forgot about all my problems and what was waiting for me back home. It was nice, but far too short of a break. We got packed and set the alarm. Bobby & Maria would return in the morning with the kittens and we'd load up the car and head for home.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Amberly, always lovely and ready to chat wtih me.

Sam and I were very tired. The morning came too early, but we got ourselves out of bed. I went down to the car to start loading it up. I set up the dog crates where the cats would be traveling. I realized we didn't have enough room in the car for everything we had, so I made some changes so we could make it all fit.

Bobby & Maria were right on time. We let the kittens out so they could run around while we had breakfast. It was just the four of us eating, while BlogPaws continued on. The sky was slate gray and the winds were starting to pick up. I knew we had to leave soon. Irene was nearby.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. One of the many reasons the power was out. This is across Route 34, a main road in our town.

I was very sad to leave. I gave Bobby & Maria a big hug goodbye. We'd only just met a less than 12 hours before. We loaded the kittens into the car and began our trip home, deciding to take a longer route, away from the coast. It added an hour to the drive, but in the end, it was the right thing to do. We missed some flooding and a few tornadoes. The entire drive home we hit bands of violent rain, but they only lasted a minute or two. I looked the weather radar and we were literally skirting the edge of the storm the entire drive home.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. A common sight around Newtown, CT.

Seven hours later, we pulled into the driveway. I unlocked the door. I just wanted to see if Bob was still with us. I hadn't had an update on him and I was worried. Sure enough, Bob was sitting on his favorite red chair, looking a little more frail, but still with us. Once I knew he was ok, we worked on getting the kittens settled and getting ourselves unpacked.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. The Housatonic River flooded quickly. If you look carefully, in the center of the image, you can see a home. It's built on stilts because the river often floods, but not as bad as this time around.

Irene swept into town and took with it, many of our lovely trees. 80 percent of the town went dark. Almost a week later, the power is still out in 26 percent of the homes. We were VERY LUCKY our power didn't go out. Many of the roads were impassable, not marked that trees were down, so getting around has been tough. My car is STILL in the SHOP because they lost power and phones. We drove past there and you can see my car on a lift in one of the bays. We haven't gone out much and we offered shelter to all our power-less friends, but they are doing fine without and hopefully things will be getting back to normal again soon.

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©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. The Pootatuck River was raging in downtown Sandy Hook, CT.

Now that I can look back, I know going to BlogPaws was the right thing for me to do. I'm glad I didn't miss out on the entire conference and I left yearning for more...for more connection to these good folks...for just a break from the troubles in my life. It was exhausting, but worth it. I'm glad I took the risk.

BlogPaws 2011: The Next Few Hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The intro screen came up...

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They announced the four finalists....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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