Thursday, August 02, 2012

Smokey loses a friend

An update on Smokey, who was my cat 10 years ago but has since chosen to live with a succession of elderly neighbors.

I got an email today from the son of Emilia, Smokey's current owner. Emilia died yesterday. She had dementia, and her son had moved in to take care of her about a year and a half ago. Shortly after the son moved in, Smokey was allowed in from the garden shed, where he'd lived for three or four years, to the house, which he enjoyed enormously.

"Smokey lost his best buddy," the son wrote. "The two were great companions for one another."

We last saw Emilia this spring, when we stopped by while out on a walk. I'm not sure she recognized us, but she appreciated our interest in the cat.

"Smokey's a good cat," she liked to tell us.

This is the second elderly companion Smokey has lost. In 2003, the cat had gradually moved in with our neighbor two doors down, a retired homicide detective who had a great resemblance to the cartoon character Crankshaft. After the detective moved to a nursing home in 2007, Smokey hiked seven blocks north to find Emilia, whose husband had just died. Emilia and I had a deal where she fed Smokey and I took care of the vet visits.

During Smokey's first year with Emilia he'd walk seven blocks every night to sleep in the laundry room, but rush back up there at sunrise. Then he moved into Emilia's garden shed, where we eventually installed a barn heating pad for the winter months. We'd go up and check on Smokey every few weeks until Emilia's son moved in with her. Fortunately, he likes cats.

I suspect that Smokey, who is 13 now, will probably stay with the son. Though there is an elderly man who lives next door...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mysterious reaction

On the way home from a visit to a friend in Harborview Hospital today, I nearly collapsed. We had just stepped into the hospital elevator when I was overcome with exhaustion. I could barely walk to the car. Fortunately, Tom was driving. I was so sleepy I was having trouble understanding what he was saying. When we got home, the thought of anything resembling dinner made me want to gag. I had a glass of grapefruit juice and stumbled upstairs to go to bed. At 7 p.m.

In the course of preparing for bed, I washed my hands. It was as if I'd knocked back a double espresso. I suddenly felt fine; not sleepy at all.

And I got to thinking. One of the reasons I'd washed my hands was that I was bothered by the cloying scent of the Purell hand sanitizer I'd rubbed on my hands at the hospital — about 15 seconds before I stepped into the elevator and nearly collapsed.

I Googled "Purell reactions" and discovered there are a few other people who have reported experiencing extreme drowsiness, lethargy, and lack of appetite as a result of using Purell. Who'd have imagined it? The motion-sensor machine dispensed a squirt of it, so it wasn't as though I'd used the wrong dosage by accident.

Fortunately, I don't work in a healthcare environment, or a school, so I haven't had been required to have much experience with Purell hand sanitizer. I carry another alcohol-based hand sanitizer with me and, while it may not have as broad a spectrum of effectiveness against viruses as Purell, at least it doesn't put me to sleep.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

D.C. Trip Report

The fearsome heckler did not materialize at my workshop last week, but the Thursday-night switch to the far distant hotel triggered a chain of events that led to the destruction of my beloved Ricardo roll-aboard suitcase. I'm still not ready to talk about it.

When we returned home, I ordered two High Sierra roll-aboard suitcases at deep discount from Sierra Trading Post. They arrived today and, while not quite as capacious as the Ricardo, they seem sturdy and well designed.

I had the two new suitcases, one blue, one gray, standing side-by-side in the living room when Zoe, our big tabby, came yowling into the room with her puff toy. She dropped the toy, lay down, lowered her head, and glowered balefully at us. Zoe has an extremely expressive, almost clownish, face, but I had never seen her with such a glare.

"It's the suitcases," Tom said. "She thinks we're leaving again."

We rushed the suitcases upstairs and put them into the attic. Zoe raced upstairs and looked around to make sure they were gone.

Fortunately, she does't know we're going to Minneapolis in June.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Signposts on the way to conference hell

Last fall I was invited to give a workshop on websites at a writers conference on the East Coast. I accepted because this would force me to marshall a lot of materials that I use in client presentations and shorter talks into workshop or ebook form.

The more work I did preparing this seminar — including surveying the people who've signed up to take it — the more I became convinced that there's a tremendous market for the material. The workshop is an attempt to span the huge gap between what small business owners want to put in their websites and what web users want to find on those websites.

Most web designers are forced to go along with what the small business owners want because the small business owners are paying them. People like me, who advocate for the website user, rarely get a chance to present our side of the picture to the website owners.

In the process of designing my presentation, I looked at hundreds of websites that belong to award-winning writers. I didn't look at the people who write best sellers — I looked at the mid-list folks.

I'll write on my public blog in the next week or so about the disasters I found at every turn — like the site with gorgeous graphic design that forgot to mention the writer's name anywhere on the homepage. And, yes, there are still sites out there that blast you with tinny MIDI music files.

Suffice it to say that this has been a huge project. I got a phone call from one of the conference organizers. The hotel is overbooked for the night before the conference begins, and they're asking attendees they know well to spend that "pre" night at another hotel. Which turns out to be miles away in Outer Slobovia.

This is a huge stressor for me because we're landing at 10 p.m. tomorrow night (after 11 hours in planes and airports) and were planning to take the hotel shuttle, get settled in our rooms, and get as much rest as possible — we're involved in an 8:30 a.m. program Friday and I present the workshop in the afternoon. Instead, we'll be landing, finding a cab to Hotel Outer Limits, checking in there, getting up at the crack of dawn, repacking all our stuff, and taking an expensive cab trip to the conference hotel, where our luggage will have to be stored (so I can't get at any of my clothes or toiletries) until we can check in to a room in the late afternoon after the workshop.

I was gritting my teeth in anticipation of this when the conference organizer mentioned that I should be on the lookout for a man who had registered for my workshop. She said that at last year's conference he had harassed the presenter of a similar website workshop, arguing with every point, querying the presenter about obscure and arcane web technology and protocols and, in the end, derailing the workshop for the attendees. He was specifically told he could not attend my session this year, but signed up anyway.

"If he shows up and causes problems, just let us know," the organizer said.

I've been mulling this over, and contacted a few people who know the man in question. They confirmed the guy's a horse's behind.

I've decided to save all my deep annoyance about the hotel situation for him. One peep out of this dude, and I'm calling in the big guns. And on the plane ride tomorrow I'll be practicing my Zen stare.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Getting a grip

Spring in Seattle: Cool, wet, green, and conducive to migraines.

I'm just now recovering from one. Since Excedrin Migraine is off the market for several months due to assembly line contamination (is that any way to run a business?) I concocted my own substitute using Medaglia d'Oro powdered expresso 65 mg caffeine, one 250 mg Tylenol, and one 250 mg aspirin. Took a bath, went to bed, and two hours later the "home brew" had worked. (For some reason, when I have a migraine I can take caffeine and sleep.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Early tomorrow morning I'm flying down to Dallas with The Scholarly Gentleman and our friend Edd. This is the first real vacation I've been on in a few years.

There are no volunteer duties to be fulfilled, no auctions to be run, no difficult people to be cultivated, no relatives to please (or, at least, to not shock), no storage lockers to be inventoried, no moving vans to be rented, no presentations to give, no awkward reunions planned, and no schedules to be adhered to.

Theoretically we're going to visit an enormous bookstore in a tiny town in East Texas. But, since we all have houses piled to the rafters with books, it's not exactly a shopping trip. My plan is to relax, enjoy a warmer climate and a slower pace, and avoid rattlesnakes.

We are leaving in the cats in the capable hands of our house sitter, who spoils them rotten. Sheba is pretty much recovered from her nervous breakdown and is now living on the kitchen counter, purring. Mabel, back at the vet to have her nails clipped this week, has lost a few more ounces so she's scheduled for a more detailed round of thyroid tests when we get back.

In other animal news, we've caught the dog that's pooping on our front yard. And the owner.

It turned out to be the Scottie from down the street. We were headed out to do errands this afternoon when it came shimmering down the sidewalk (it lives four doors to the south) scampered right past us, and squatted down on the lawn. Meanwhile, the owner leaned out her front door and started calling for it. We kept the dog entertained, which had the effect of luring the owner out into the open, where we were able to inform her that her dog had, once again, pooped on our lawn. The woman seemed unfazed about anything except getting the dog to come home. But now I know where to deliver the piles of poop — either to the owner's lawn OR to the pristine lawn of the remodeled house they have up for sale, only two doors to the south of us!

Monday, April 09, 2012

Slowly, back to normal

It's taken nearly two weeks, but Sheba the deaf white cat is nearly back to normal. After our vet ran tests to make sure there was nothing wrong with her thyroid, blood sugar, liver, and kidneys, we put her on a low dose of Prozac. Each day she got slightly better, less agitated, and began spending more and more time on the main floor of the house with the other cats. Today she resumed demanding water from the tap in the bathroom, and slept on her usual towel on the counter under the Xenon lights. And she pulled the kitchen calendar off the wall.

A few days ago we discovered what we think caused Sheba to flip out while I was in Florida. She goes outside for a brief period once or twice a day. When I returned from Florida, she was rushing outside at every opportunity, and then holing up in the cat tree on the front porch. Attempts to bring her in involve literally dragging her out of the cat tree while she held on with claws.

Friday morning I spotted Sheba on the neighbor's porch, getting ready to attack an enormous black-and-white male cat. According to neighbors, that cat spends most of his time on a nearby porch, inciting that family's indoor cats to hysteria. I shooed the cat, and Sheba agreed to come indoors. However, I think she has since nailed him.

We're keeping her on the Prozac for a while.

Meanwhile, I now have the electronic alarm system set up to catch the dog, which had left two more piles of crap on our lawn over the weekend.

The system was not triggered last night, but there wasn't any evidence on the lawn. We'll be on alert again tonight (the indoor-alarm half of the system can be turned off during the day while the outdoor sensor remains in place).

The worst case scenario is that the owner has spotted the sensor (camouflaged by a small shrub) — but even that's a win in terms of keeping our lawn clean.

One final note about animals — this afternoon there was a large black cat in the backyard that was covered in dust and appeared to be trailing pieces of rope or a harness. Whatever he was "wearing" didn't in anyway impede his movement, and after giving me a startled look, he vanished through the "cat opening" in our back fence. This attracted the attention of Mabel, Kaylee and Zoe, who looked utterly incredulous. Sheba, fortunately, sleep through it all.

Tomorrow: The semi-annual car check up at High Road. After I drop off the car in the early morning, I walk back along Ballard Avenue and see what new shops have appeared. Usually stop for breakfast at Vera's or at the Smoke Shop (which is pure time travel back to 1965).

Friday, March 30, 2012

Raining, cats, and dogs

I returned from visiting my mother in Florida eight days ago to discover our deaf white cat, Sheba, had gone mad.

This state was quite difference from her usual yowling on the kitchen counter and throwing food bowls on the floor.

She wanted either to go out in the cold and sit in the enclosed carpeted cat tree on the front porch or to hide in the basement laundry room. (To her view, it wasn't hiding, but from my viewpoint, it's hard to spot a white cat asleep in a white chenille bedspread.)

"She missed you," Tom said.

But I think it was more than that. Because Sheba refused to stay upstairs with me, either clawing at the back door to be let out or running down to the basement to sit in her chenille spread. Finally I gave up and let her move into the laundry room, spreading a towel on the ironing board and putting her food and water there.

It was so pathetic, because the laundry room is chilly.

I brought down a heated cat bed and put that on the dryer. But Kaylee, the small tabby, went down and took over the heated cat bed, so it didn't help Sheba much. Though it did provide her some company.

I went down to visit Sheba several times a day, bringing meals and treats (which she gobbled voraciously), and shivering. Sheba seemed perfectly fine and very energetic. I tried bringing her upstairs, but as soon as I did she got this wild, haunted look in her eyes.

She was also over-grooming, so the house was carpeted in white cat fur. This encouraged me to encourage her to stay in the laundry room.

Two days into this routine, I took Sheba to the vet, where they ran tests for diabetes, hyperthyroidism, bladder infections, and a few other things. Her weight was fine, and on Monday evening the vet called to say everything else was fine, too.

"She's just upset," he said.

We suspect that at some point during my absence Sheba had a run-in with Mabel, our Bombay. Mabel is a small, domineering cat with sharp claws and no sense of humor. She and Sheba usually ignore each other, but...who knows? And Zoe, the overbearing large tabby, tends to stalk other animals and annoy them.

I began doing lots of laundry and ironing, to keep Sheba company. It's not easy to do laundry with cat beds, cat bowls, and cats everywhere, and it didn't help when Sheba slept in a basket of clean clothes and threw up on three pairs of clean pants.

Today, after Sheba came upstairs and peed on the kitchen counter, I called the vet again.

"Can we do something to cheer up this cat?" I asked.

He recommended Prozac in fish oil — which I had on hand because we'd very briefly tried it on Mabel (who had been snapping at people). Mabel had reacted to her first dose of Prozac by refusing to eat anything for a week and glaring at food suspiciously for some time thereafter. The prescription was still valid, so tonight I gave Sheba a dose of it on her dinner. She gobbled it down and purred madly. There is hope.

So much for cats. Now, for the dog.

It's back.

From the evidence, it is apparently the same mid-size dog that had been crapping on our tiny front lawn last summer. So I brought out my waterproof sign ("Anything your dog leaves on this lawn will be returned to your front steps") and put it back on the lawn, right on the spot where the dog craps in the wee hours of the morning.

Either the dog or the owner can read, because the crapping immediately stopped — until Wednesday, when I was having people over for lunch, and there was the pile of poop.

Tom removed the sign, and the crap, and as soon as the rain (!) lets up I'm installing the motion-detector and alarm system I'd purchased last summer. The plan is to catch the owner and dog in the act, rush downstairs in my robe, shovel up the dog poop, and follow them home with it.

This plan would have been more fun in the summer, but they haven't given me much choice.

Stay tuned.

Monday, March 05, 2012

What on earth is wrong with Google?

I've squawked about Google+ at length on the WriterWay blog, but now I'm realizing they've done things to Blogger that have made a once user-friendly piece of blogging software into a  mysterious morass of strange icons. It looks like an Excel spreadsheet with one big cell.

I used to love blogging with Blogger and now I can hardly wait to get back to WordPress (where my public blogs are).

Perhaps I'm just grouchy because I woke up this morning with a migraine, took a lot of caffeine, bundled up and headed out in the rain, caught the overheated bus to an unparkable section of downtown (thank you, Mayor McGinn), discovered my interviewee had cancelled, stood in the rain for a bus back to Ballard, got home, got in the tub, got back in bed, and slept for the rest of the day. I now have something that's a cross between a mild flu, a mild cold, and a mild headache, and would be happy to spend the next 24 hours in bed.

Meanwhile, my email inbox has filled up with a wide range of messages, most of them having to do with all the travel I have planned for the next several months.

Thanks to Google linking the identity I use for this blog to one of my Google+ accounts, I'm now not quite sure who reads this blog. I'm reluctant to reveal when and where I travel — not for security reasons but because people seem to want to argue me out of traveling to places that I want to go on the grounds that I should be either visiting them or traveling somewhere with them instead. Thus, I'll be vague...

• Florida to visit my mom next week
• a night at Norwescon (yes, probably more like a Marx Brothers films than you'd suspect) in early April
• a book-browsing jaunt to one of the world's most amazing bookstores in mid-April (with two friends)
• teaching a website-planning seminar at a convention in the D.C. area in mid-May (maybe see some high school friends?)
• Fourth Street convention in Minneapolis in late June
• Breitenbush in Oregon mid-July...maybe...
• Foolscap in Redmond in late September

Tom discovered last week that it's almost as cheap to fly to Venice to deliver a batch of prints than it is to ship them (given Italian customs and courier prices for large artwork). However, by the time you figure in airfare for both of us, and a hotel...well, we're still thinking about it!

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Mysterious Traveler catches up

Busy times.

After a tough 2011 for my business (my major client cut back its social media program, and I had extensive time commitments as the president of a nonprofit board), 2012 is already looking much better.

I'm drafting a specialized website for a state agency, writing an ebook for an agency client (which, as you might imagine, pays better than writing for a government entity), and rewriting a website for a high-level consultant in the product development field.

I'm thinking this is the time to launch to my "social media audit" product for mid-size organizations. I sold a few audits last year, and thing I have a good sense for customer expectations and pricing. However, I'd like to develop some add-on services, including social media coaching and a website-redesign process, for people who want move ahead on social media after the audit.

There is also a possibility for a longterm project working on a team studying social media in a healthcare setting. There are so many feeble attempts by start-ups to make money by "gamifying" healthy activities via social media that I'm a little wary. But this is a respected research organization, and if they can make it work it would be a model — and I'd sure like to be involved in that.

Outside of work, I'm finding myself caught up in a lot more volunteer activities than I had anticipated. I like the people, and I'm fascinated with the fundraising and social media aspects of nonprofit work. Tom and I are involved with quite a few of the same groups, which is great fun.

On the home front, I'm wondering how many wet, cold, bleak Seattle winters I can stand. A friend I expressed this to asked me "If global warming happened, and Seattle were 20 degrees warmer, would you want to move?"

"Absolutely NOT," I said. So, there you have it. Love our house, our friends, my work, the neighborhood — really hate the wet, cold winters. Really.

And I know when we move to Santa Cruz, I'll say "Why didn't we do this earlier?"

The cats could go outdoors more, and I wouldn't have to deal with Mabel trying to dominate the household — including us. The vet put her on Prozac, but she made it very clear that she'd rather starve than eat anything that might have Prozac compounded with tuna oil in it. And as far as giving Mabel pills – if you've met Mabel, you wouldn't ask. We already have Feliway diffusers all over the house...who knows if they work?