Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Yesterday was another hot day, so CatMan and I decided to take an evening bike ride in lieu of riding during the hot daytime hours. We got about 7 miles from home when he got a flat. By the time we got it fixed there was barely enough time to get home before it was pitch black.

When I got home I discovered that Smoky, one of my 4 year old boys was not well.

His legs and paws were swollen to twice their normal size and he just generally looked like a sack of water.

I quickly rushed him off to the emergency vet, and the next 16 hours or so were basically filled with waiting, phone calls, trips back and forth, and seemingly every test known to veterinary medicine. Suffice it to say that Smoky is really sick and they don't know why.

He's basically got generalized edema (swelling) all over and a very low grade fever. His blood work showed low albumin (a blood protein) and that he was slightly anemic. Nothing showed up on x-rays or ultrasound.

At this point we're waiting for a few more lab tests to come back, and in the meantime they've put him on two different antibiotics on the off chance that we're dealing with some sort of tick-borne disease (which seems unlikely given the fact that he's an all indoor cat, but hey, when you're grasping at straws...)

The most frightening prospect is that he could have feline leukemia. He's been tested for it in the past and came up negative, but apparently that doesn't mean much. If he does indeed have it, then Jasper, his litter mate, is almost certainly infected too.

The irony is almost palpable. For the past nine months I've been worried sick about Sputnik (who is still soldiering on BTW), and now it turns out that my little baby Smoky is the one facing a truly dire situation, and Jasper might not be far behind. I guess you just never know.

Anyhow, I just wanted to write a quick post and let y'all know what's going on. I probably won't be around much on the interwebs for a while, but will keep you posted if I can find a moment when I'm not medicating one cat or another, talking to a vet, filling out insurance forms, trying to figure out how I'm gonna pay for treatment once the insurance runs out, or curled up in a fetal position sobbing (which is sorta what I feel like doing at the moment).

I guess this is what you sign up for when you adopt neighborhood strays, but somehow it just doesn't seem fair. Sigh.



Hi Everybody. Just wanted to give you an update.

Smoky is doing MUCH better. We got the results of the FIV/FELV test back and he's negative so that's a HUGE weight off my mind. He is much less swollen this morning and has perked up quite a bit. I just went to check on him and found him lounging on his favorite perch at the top of the kitty tree, so he can't be feeling too terribly bad!

Smoky Bear. Still a bit swollen around the edges but on the mend!
It's unclear if he's responding to the antibiotics or if things are just clearing up on their own. It's probably too soon to draw any conclusions, but the fact that we're seeing improvement makes it much less likely that it's something horrible like a weird cancer or something like that. We're still waiting on lab results for the "tick panel" to confirm the theory of some sort of tick borne disease, but the other blood work showed that his anemia is most likely a kind that's caused because his bone marrow is so busy pumping out white blood cells to fight whatever's going on, that it doesn't have time to create the usual number of red ones.

At any rate, I'm feeling significantly less doom and gloom than I was yesterday, and I sincerely appreciate all of your kind words of support.

I'll keep you posted...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

In Love with Sleep (Sleep Mode, That Is)

OK, I realize that I'm probably in the minority here, but I am one of the few dinosaurs left who still uses a desktop computer.

I bought it six and a half years ago when I quit my job and was working both long hours on my web pages every day as well as doing some visual basic and MS Access programming work, because I wanted something that was both reliable and easy for me to maintain. And I have to say that it has lived up to both of those expectations.

I've had to replace about a half dozen parts over the years and upgrade the operating system and software, but in general it still serves me quite well.

But, for my birthday this year CatMan decided to bring me into the modern era and got me a nice shiny new tablet.

The tablet's been sort of a mixed bag. It suffered from a case of "infant mortality" and had to be sent back to the factory within a month or so to have its innards replaced, but since then it has functioned perfectly.

And while it's great for certain applications, find it really hard to imagine using it as an only computer. I know in many ways it has the same capabilities as a "real" computer, and I did buy a keyboard for it because typing on the touch screen was enough to drive me completely batty - but I'd be hard pressed to imagine trying to program on it or do any meaningful amount of writing without a full sized ergonomic keyboard (yes, I'm writing this from my desktop.)

I guess I sorta look at it more as a toy than a real computer.

But there was one thing about the tablet that I found to be absolutely wonderful. You could just put it into sleep mode instead of shutting it completely down and then when you want it you just touch one button and voila, it's on! No waiting for 15 minutes for the thing to boot or leaving it on all day so you don't have to deal with the boot process.

Then one night as I was shutting it down, I actually decided to read the list of options on the shut down menu. Yes, I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'd never done that before. And much to my surprise I noticed that "sleep" was one of the choices!

Silly me! I knew that there was the option of having the computer go into sleep mode if it was "inactive" for xyz period of time, but I'd had to disable that feature because I often use the computer for streaming movies and other videos, and it kept falling asleep in the middle of my movies! Not cool!

Anyhow, I'm very happy with my new discovery. Now, whenever I'm not using it, I just put it into sleep mode and it goes away! I'm pretty sure I'm saving a bunch of electricity, plus there's just something emotionally better about not having the thing on all the time.

Better for the planet, and better for me! Yay!

How 'bout you? Any happy discoveries lately?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Growing a Privacy Fence

My wonderful little 900 square foot house is located smack dab in the middle of what I lovingly call "the land of crackerbox houses."

The neighborhood was built during the housing boom shortly after WWII, and most of the homes are small single story frame houses separated by 3 foot tall chain link fences. The fences work great for marking the property line and keeping small dogs enclosed, but they don't offer much in the way of privacy.

It's not like I'm out sunbathing in my yard or anything, but I do spend a lot of time out in my garden, and I sorta get tired of being on display for the whole neighborhood. 

While many of my neighbors have upgraded to 6 foot wooden privacy fences, it would seem that I'm simply too cheap to cough up the several thousand bucks that it would cost to put one in.

Then one day I was noticing that one of said privacy fences was totally covered with a vine, and suddenly it occurred to me that perhaps I didn't need to buy a privacy fence... maybe I could grow one!

Anyhow, I did some research and concluded that Virginia Creeper was the vine of choice for quick growth in my area, so I bought a few at the local nursery and planted them along the fence line. It took a few years for them to establish, and a couple of them died, but soon the ones that "took" were covering the fence. Now all I had to do was figure out how to extend the height by a few feet.

I finally decided that the best option was to just get some tall metal fence posts, pound them into the ground in front of the fence every five or six feet, and then secure an additional three feet of fencing on top of the existing fence.

I just used bailing wire to attach the fencing to the posts:

Anyhow, I added the extra height about a month ago and it's filling out marvelously!

It gives the yard an entirely different feel and it's certainly a vast improvement over how it looked before. It's also given me new motivation to get some vines growing on the chunk of yard where they didn't take first time around!

So that's my el cheapo landscaping trick du jour. Soon I'll be able to prance around as scantily dressed as I like in my backyard... well... with a LOT of sunscreen that is! ;-)

So how about you? Anybody got any great recommendations for landscaping on the cheap?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

2 Personal Bests and A Crazy Lady Eco Tip

The stars have aligned recently to allow me to spend more time on my bike. It's been really wonderful actually, and sorta makes me feel like I'm really on eternal vacation. It's also allowed me to set two new bike records in the past few days.

First record: I've ridden over 125 miles in the past week! 

I kinda sorta can't believe it. I guess the combination of a better bike and a more physically fit me has translated into longer rides. We're now averaging about 40 miles per ride and it doesn't actually seem that long anymore.

I am learning, however, that one really needs to work to stay hydrated on long hot summer rides.

Yesterday the official high was 97 degrees, though CatMan and I both saw temps pushing the triple digits at our homes. Any way you slice it, it was hot!

So, what did CatMan and I decide to do? In our infinite wisdom, we went for a 45 mile bike ride! Oy!

OK, perhaps it wasn't our best decision ever. This particular ride is one that seemed almost impossible to me just last year, but now it's one of our regular routes. It takes us up and over two of Denver's flood protection dams (think big, steep hills,) with a long, hot, shadeless stretch in between.

View from the top of Bear Creek Dam

I drank a total of 4 bottles full of water... that's 12 cups, or 3/4 of a gallon! Still, by mile 35 my head was pounding and I started to feel a bit like a wilted piece of lettuce.

We decided to stop and take a break, which we don't usually do, at a little cafe along the bike path. It was closed, but the drinking fountain and restrooms were open, so we sat down in the shade to catch our breaths and guzzle some water while we waited for a few blessed clouds to blow their way our direction.

Funky Flowers at the Bike Cafe

Anyhow, we made it home unscathed, but I think I probably drank a whole other gallon of water after I got home! Sorta remarkable but true. I think perhaps I should try to do a better job of hydration before the next ride rather than trying to replenish fluids once I'm already dehydrated.

So..... record number 2: I set a new personal best speed record of 38 miles per hour! (That's 61.1 kilometers per hour for those of you who speak metric.)

Riding fast is not necessarily a goal for me, but my little bike computer keeps track of speed so it's sorta fun to look down and see how fast you're going, especially when you're screaming down a big hill.

This was on the 4th of July. It was a bit hot so we decided to ride west to Morrison, which is near Red Rocks park. It's all uphill, but the temperature cools off as you gain elevation, so the extra work is totally worth it.

Anyhow, we got just about to the hogback, which is the first major ridge west of Denver, when a big, dark thundercloud blew in from the west. Not really wanting to get hit by lightning or caught in a hail storm, we decided that discretion was the better part of valor and high tailed it outta there.

So we were headed eastward on Morrison Road, which is one of the few busy streets that I actually enjoy riding on. It has a shoulder that's wider than a lane of traffic, and there's a state park all along the side of it so there are no side streets to contend with. Plus, it's nice, smooth pavement.

We were pedaling for all we were worth, trying to outrun the storm. It was right behind us though with fierce winds blowing us along and raindrops pelting us from behind. Then we hit "the hill" which is a stretch about the length of a football field with a very steep grade, probably around 10% or so.

The wind was whipping and I was riding the breaks the entire way down, so imagine my shock when I glanced at my bike computer and it said 38mph! I was sure I'd misread it, and that I was really only going 28mph, but when we finally screeched to a halt at the bottom of the hill I checked my maximum trip speed and sure enough it confirmed the amazing number.

Look, I have proof! OK... I know you can't really read that, but trust me, it says my maximum speed was 38mph.

Lordy! I'm sure glad I didn't crash, 'cause that definitely would have hurt!

OK, enough bike ride blathering... I promised you a Crazy Lady Eco Tip. I've sorta been thinking of starting a series of these. They're not gonna save the planet or anything, they're just funny quirky things I do to make my life a little easier, save a few pennies, and be a smidge nicer to the big blue marble that we call home.

So here's my first one: Bathe with your workout clothes.

I realize this is a little bit nuts, but when I come home from a long bike ride, I've gotten in the habit of just tossing my bike clothes into the tub with me. They're generally just sweaty, not really dirty, and they last much longer if you hand wash them rather than putting them through the machine.

Plus, it takes soooooo long to dirty enough clothes to fill my huge washing machine, that I'd need a ridiculous number of them if I was gonna wait until I had enough stuff to make a load.

So I just decided that it would be easier and quicker to wash them at the same time as I wash myself. It saves water and energy, and this way I always have clean clothes for my next ride.

It's sorta like rinsing your swimsuit in the shower or something, but I do give the dirty spots a good scrub with soap. Then I just let them drip dry.

Yes, that is the lovely carpeting in my bedroom. Hey! It's RETRO!

I told you it was crazy. :-) So that's about all the news from the funny farm.

How about you? Got any personal Bests or crazy eco tips to share?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

June Grocery Review and New July Challenge

OK folks, well, I finished June just about perfectly on budget. I spent $134.38 of my $137 food stamp level goal. That's really not too bad at all considering that I sorta went overboard with the fresh produce after May's $21 challenge left me feeling a tad bit deprived. I actually consumed two entire 16 pound watermelons this month, not to mention a fair amount of cherries, peaches, grapes, peppers, asparagus and assorted other produce!

One of my goals for June was to explore more "ethical" options. Well... I decided to focus on what "ethical" food I could find that was either within walking/biking distance or that was on the way to someplace I had to go anyway (like the vet's office.)

Soooo... I visited 2 markets, neither of which left me feeling terribly inspired. Both had very little in the way of farm fresh produce, and mostly had fancy handmade soaps, and homemade prepared foods - the vast majority of which I couldn't get anywhere near due to my many allergies.

I did find eggs averaging about $5/dozen, and one vendor that would sell me pasture raised chickens for $13.99/pound. Yikes! Of course that pales in comparison to the grass fed beef, which was $31/pound - but only if you bought half a cow. Smaller amounts cost more.

Needless to say, I didn't buy much.

The selection in my local stores was even worse. In the 4 stores that I frequent, I managed to find only one package (yes ONE!) of organic meat - chicken breasts for $8.99/pound. There was a small selection of organic produce at the chain stores, but nothing at the closer discount grocery stores.

So, obviously, if I'm gonna find more "ethical" choices, it's gonna have to require significantly more work and travel time, 'cause it ain't just gonna appear on my doorstep!

I also decided to do some research into CSA's just for the sake of comparison. I think that if you didn't have food allergies this would definitely be the way to go in terms of eating local and organic on a budget. Unfortunately for me, when I belonged to a CSA in the past, I could only eat about half of what was in my box each week and the rest was either given away to someone less allergic than me or tossed.

But, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are MANY more CSA's in operation now than there were 10 years ago when I last looked into it. And many of them are actually urban farms which is quite encouraging. On the discouraging side, there still aren't any that are willing to serve this neighborhood, and it would be a significant drive to get to any of the pickup sites. Sigh. Come on peoples!!! Folks in the barrio need fresh produce too!

But the whole thing did get me to thinking. I've been pretty outspoken about how the cost of organic and "ethical" foods put them out of reach for most people, but is it really that much more expensive to eat ethically? Perhaps this is another area where I ought to "put my money where my mouth is."

So for the month of July, I've decided that I'm gonna do an "ethical foods" experiment. Now, defining what exactly ethical means could take an entire lifetime, and I'm sure that you'll get a completely different answer depending on who you ask.

So for the purposes of this study (and to keep myself from going completely broke and/or insane) I've decided that I'll allow myself to buy only foods that are either organically produced, locally produced or salvage goods.

"Local" being defined as anything produced within the state of Colorado and "Salvage goods" including anything in the markdown bin at the regular store, or any goods purchased from the salvage grocery store - I'm sure these won't meet the organic or local criteria, but it's hard to argue that eating food that would otherwise go to waste isn't ethical, no matter how it was produced!

I'll still try to be as frugal as possible, and continue to eat down my pantry stockpile. I'll also record the extra driving miles that this adventure requires and at the end of the month we can tally it all up to see if it's absurdly expensive like I think it will be, or if there's a way to do it on a budget.

Wish me luck!