Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Danger of Tweets and Memes

It was ... many years ago. The Internet was young. An elective college music course was meeting in the evening. The night was cold and the heat in the classroom didn't work properly. The students kept their coats and scarves on and the professor, a former concert pianist, was bundled in a heavy, but very comfy-looking sweater. It was nearing the end of the semester, and a young lady stood at the front of the class, giving an oral presentation of her term paper.

She cleared her throat and began, "Beethoven. A deaf composer for a deaf audience."

A collective murmur of curiosity arose from the students, many of whom had started to doze off all cuddled up in their layers of winter jackets and sweaters.

The professor, whose attention had probably waned due to the constant drone of amateurish recitations of facts he was intimately aware of, shifted uncomfortably in his seat. As the student continued her diatribe indicting Beethoven for bombarding his listeners with discordant notes that failed to coalesce into anything resembling a work of art, the musician-professor interrupted.

Clearly trying to control his temper, he asked, "Where did you get your information?"

The girl appeared stunned at the brewing hostility she heard in his voice. "Um, on-on the Internet," she stuttered.

The enraged professor stood. Through gritted teeth, he spat, "Just because you read it on the Internet doesn't make it true."

True story. I was in the audience/class. I can't be sure, but I think she failed.

I'd like to think that people who are growing up with technology would better understand the origin of so-called information that you find there, but sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case. This past election demonstrated that.

Reams of Memes

My Facebook page became unusable during the 2016 US election. My news feed was filled with silly ridiculous memes that stretched truths, made sarcasm read as serious news and spread outright lies. My usual relaxing and enjoyable stream of cat pictures and videos was infected by images of politicians that completely undid all of the blood pressure-lowering effects of my Internet felines.

Now, I dislike engaging in the practice of telling - or being told for that matter (I am only human) - that something someone believes in isn't true, but this was ridiculous. And like I said, it was ruining my morning cat time. So, initially, I investigated each one of these outrageous claims and then posted the truth (with sources) with the original poster. The individual would usually say something like "that's a relief" and then proceed to re-post it within a few weeks. I gave up. Clearly these people would never acknowledge that they had allowed their opinion to be influenced or changed by either ultra conservative or extremely liberal websites that claimed to know the truth. 

However, recently, the sharing of silly memes and fake news stories has officially become dangerous. A man actually opened fire in a restaurant because people had forwarded and shared ridiculous emails/posts/tweets purporting something called "Pizzagate" - an alleged child pornography ring involving Clinton and her contacts, even though it had been widely debunked as false. Does someone need to die before we all become more conscientious about what we forward/share/post? 

This is not about which candidate you supported. This is about the truth. If we are going to depend on social media for information, we need to ensure that what we are reading or sharing is true. Don't share posts from The Onion without stressing that it is sarcasm. Don't share news stories from ultra conservative or extremely liberal sources. Look for the truth that lies between.



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

My New Least Favorite House Cleaning Chore

Ah, paper shredder, you've earned a spot on my list. Which list? The least favorite house cleaning chore list. Topped only by rehanging the shower curtain after washing it, emptying the paper shredder now joins other tasks such as ironing, washing the walls (yes, that's a thing when you have OCD) and scrubbing grout.

Previously, paper shredding and the ominous task of emptying the basket had escaped inclusion on 'The List.' That all changed today when I got up from the computer to do another task. As I stood, I noticed two documents that I wanted to shred. Figuring I'd just slip them into the shredder on my way out of the room, I picked them up and carried them with all the reverence due a piece of paper that was about to be shredded into unrecognizable diamond-cut bits. Very casually I flipped the switch and fed the papers in. Nothing happened. Hmm. The light was on. It worked yesterday. Then I noticed that the basket was full. No. Full doesn't describe it. It looked more like it had been through a trash compactor. When I pulled the basket out, tiny pieces of confetti burst out and littered the floor.

Sigh. Okay. I removed the container and went in search of a bag big enough to hold the contents. A peek in the kitchen pail told me that the half empty bag had the capacity to do the job. Oops, I have a quandary here. Is it pessimistic to say half empty when looking for such a state to accomplish a task? Was I actually being optimistic that the space in the bag would fulfill my needs? Great. Now I have a headache (and quite possibly some ADD). Anyway, back to the problem at hand. The environmentally-conscious part of me knew I had to fill the bag now because the trash goes out tonight. Just one problem. The picky compulsive in me didn't want to contaminate the shredder pail by touching it to any of the garbage already in the bag.

I carefully spread the opening of the bag and held the pail over it. With the assistance of gravity and an exuberant puppy who rushed in to grab the bag as I was dumping the shreds, my kitchen ended up looking like the Canyon of Heroes after a victory parade. Knowing that attempting to sweep such a mess is an exercise in futility, I knew a vacuuming was in order. Yay! Vacuuming is actually my favorite task. The immediate gratification of seeing clean floors and carpets in the wake of my Shark animal vacuum is very pleasing.

I pulled out the vacuum, which had the added benefit of causing the puppy to stop eating the paper and leave the room. Naturally, since I had the machine out, I did the whole house, however, I made the mistake of running the vacuum over the pile of shredded paper rather than using the wand for all of it. This caused the roller to continue to spit out little pieces all throughout the house. In the end, I went back over everything with the wand. Then I emptied the vacuum and changed the kitchen garbage bag, which naturally meant cleaning the pail first.

That done, I returned the now-empty basked to the shredder. Once again, I fed the paper in. Nothing happened. Hmm. I peered inside the mechanism and saw an intact piece of paper sitting in between the nasty-looking teeth of the shredder. Now, I've seen enough horror movies to know that even with it switched off, the teeth would spring to life and shred my fingers if I tried to clear it. I unplugged the shredder, but knew it was still a risk. However, it was Amy vs. the machine now and I was determined to win.

I amassed several household items to help with the job at hand. Tweezers failed. Scissors failed. The pen wouldn't fit in the opening. I finally found a flat-headed screw driver that was narrow enough to fit in. With much maneuvering, I finally managed to dislodge the offending piece of paper. Once again, I fed the documents into the shredder. Success!

With a contented sigh, I turned to do what I had wanted to before the whole shredding incident began. My shoulders slumped as I realized that I could no longer recall what that was. Not to worry, though, I'm sure I'll wake up at 3 am and remember.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Life with an Epileptic Dog

It's taken me some time to write this. My beautiful Daphne went to the Rainbow Bridge on January 3, and life hasn't been the same since. I have since gotten a new puppy, whom I love dearly, but it remains to be seen if she and I will ever be as close as I was with my Daph. In some ways, I hope not. Not that I didn't love the way she looked at me and I saw that her life began and ended with me, but because Daphne was too dependent on me. She was overcome with sorrow when I wasn't around and by the time she died, she was so close to me that she was literally always at my side. In fact, it was difficult to even walk across the house without tripping over her. I'm not sure exactly why she ended up that way, but I believe her epilepsy had much to do with it.

The First Seizure
Daphne had her first seizure a month before her fourth birthday. It was 'foodies' time - something of an event when you have seven cats and two dogs. I noticed her slinking around the dining room table, which was odd because that dog could smell food at fifty paces. So I went to see what was wrong and saw her standing there with long strands of drool hanging from her mouth. My immediate thought was that she'd eaten something harmful. I used a towel to wipe her mouth. Then to my absolute horror she fell on her side. Her mouth was wide open and she seemed to be gasping. Foolishly, I thought she was choking. There I was sweeping her throat, looking for whatever it was. Feeling nothing, I finally gave up and sat back, terrified that I was about to watch my dog die. I do realize how lucky I was that her jaw didn't close, especially given the lockjaw that usually followed her later seizures. Within a few minutes, she recovered and stood, but she growled at me when I got near. I guess she was so confused about what had happened and probably still felt loopy. I rushed her to the vet and they said it was likely a seizure. With a bottle of phenobarbital, I headed home. She had two more seizures within 24 hours, meaning she was a so-called 'cluster' dog. Through the years, we tried upping the dose and adding Zonisamide, but were never able to get any better than a cluster about once every month.

Our First Emergency Experience
Then came the dreaded night. Daphne began seizing at 2am and never came out of it. Her body would still for a minute or two and then immediately begin seizing again. By the time we got her to the emergency vet, her temperature was about 108. They put her in an ice bath and administered Valium intravenously to stop the seizures. The next morning, we picked her up and took her to the specialty hospital, where she stayed for a day or two. They upped her Zonisamide to the maximum dose. Happily, she had no further episodes like that and even stopped clustering. She would still have one seizure about every month or two, but we learned to live with it (as the vet said happens to most people who have an epileptic dog). We slept with a pile of towels behind the pillows, so we could throw them under her and prevent having to change the bedding at 2 am and barricaded the stairs.

Six Year Veterans
Eventually, she became very unsteady. It started with what we called 'wobbly' days as we approached the six year mark for her disease. She would stumble on the back steps to the yard and wipe out when turning corners. We place throw rugs and mats on all bare floor areas to stop her from falling.

Our New Hope: Keppra
Every year we had her pheno and liver levels tested. After six years, her liver was showing signs of damage and we made the decision to try and wean her off it, while adding Keppra. The first day on the Keppra was nothing short of horrific. She couldn't take two steps without falling, even with all the mats and runners. I cried just watching her. We stopped it and then gradually gave it to her in quarter tablet increments. Finally, we had her on the Keppra and off the pheno.

Tragedy ... Again
Then tragedy struck. Just before Thanksgiving, she had another cluster - her first in a few years. Again, it was the middle of the night. The Valium suppositories we had didn't help. We skipped the local emergency vet and rushed her to the specialty hospital. She was there for several days, still having intermittent seizures. The day before Thanksgiving, against their advice, we took her home. The bills were becoming astronomical and we wanted her home for the holiday. All went well at first. Then three weeks later, it happened again. Once again, we rushed her to the hospital in the middle of the night. This time, when we took her home a few days later, we had a prescription for injectable Valium and a kit to administer it rectally. If this didn't work, I feared we would lose her. I simply couldn't afford a two to three day hospitalization every month. The specialist felt that the Pheno had probably been stopping the clusters, but said it was possible that even restarting it wouldn't stop them. Plus, her liver values had improved since stopping it, which indicated that it had been harming her liver.

On January 3rd, it happened again. We administered the Valium rectally as we'd been instructed. She was still seizing. We loaded her into the car and were halfway to the specialist when she stopped. With great relief, we returned home. She spent the night vocalizing - something they do after a cluster, where they sort of howl and whine. She seemed relatively okay the next morning - clingy, but that was normal for her. She had a few short seizures, but got up quickly. However, the next morning, she had another seizure and though she regained consciousness she couldn't stand up. We brought her back to the specialist and were told that she was likely brain damaged (her pupils were no longer equally reactive). They said they could hospitalize her and try to stabilize her, but she might never walk again. Deciding to let her go was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

I still feel so guilty. Perhaps if I'd taken her to the hospital that last time even though she stopped, we could have prevented the brain damage. On the other hand, monthly hospitalizations at a specialty hospital were too costly to be practical. I would like to look back on all the time we had together and smile, but I'm not at that point yet. The memory of those soulful, brown eyes still brings me to tears. Some day I'll get there.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Healthy (Weight) Dog Is a Happy Dog!

Two years ago, I took my lab mix, Laney, to the vet for her annual checkup - you know, heartworm test, vaccinations, etc. The vet did his physical exam and said, "Well, I think she could afford to lose a few pounds."

My dog was fat!?! I knew she'd gotten a little more plump in the past few years - her youthful dog weight had been about 65 pounds and she was now close to 80. I was horrified. How could I do that to my treasured dog?

I went home and immediately cut her food rations and increased her walk frequency. After a few months, I noticed that she'd gotten most of her figure back and she now climbed the front steps with a spring in her step that I hadn't seen since she was a puppy. My heart soared with happiness.

So it was with great anticipation that I took her for her annual checkup the next year. Surely the doctor would tell me what a wonderful job I'd done. The tech weighed Laney and the vet came in. He looked at the record, then back at my dog, his face full of concern.

My heart sank. With great trepidation, I asked, "Is something wrong?"

He gave me a barely perceptible nod. "Yes. She's lost a lot of weight," he said in a grave voice.

"But you told me she needed to lose weight!" I exclaimed.

He brightened considerably. "I know, but I tell lots of clients that. Nobody ever does it!"

We both laughed in relief.

Since then, my other epileptic dog became ill to the point where I couldn't walk her. I couldn't bear the look of disappointment on her face when I walked Laney, but not her. So I stopped walking Laney. She slowly put a few pounds back on. Additionally, I enjoy giving treats to my pets. There's nothing that makes me happier than to watch her take a treat and run to the other room as though she had just received the greatest treasure in the world. However, Laney soon started doing a strange chewing motion with her mouth even when she wasn't eating. The vet felt she was having reflux issues. I never thought my dog would have those problems. This article makes so much sense. Adding treats to the recommended serving size means you're giving them too many calories each day.

Keeping your pets healthy is as important as keeping them happy.

If (like me) you're not sure if your dog or cat is a good weight, check this chart out.

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Pet Rescue Love Story

One week ago, I lost my little Stuff Kitty. Though I am crying tears of sadness because she is gone, I can never be sad about the time we spent together.

In August of 2001, I was a widow living alone. The loss of my husband was still an open wound, and most days, I simply got up, went to work, came home, ate a brief dinner and got into bed. Many people probably will read that and think that I was pathetic, but any who have lost a spouse or partner will better understand the all-encompassing effect it has on you for a long time. One day I came home and went out to fill the bird feeders only to find a tiny, dirty, sickly, little calico kitten in my yard. Her patches of white were a sooty gray, one eye was bulging and necrotic, flies buzzed around her and she was clearly undernourished. She wouldn't allow me to approach her, so I backed off and put a dish of cat food down well away from the steps. Cautiously, she neared the dish, ever vigilant and wary of any movements I made.

We went on this way for some time. When the 9/11 terror attacks hit, I was still unable to get near her. But the attempts gave me a much needed break from the constant onslaught of news coverage. Living anywhere in close proximity to New York City at the time meant that it was all we thought about. Everyone here knew someone who was there, whether they were lost or they escaped. Many people took comfort in the embrace of loved ones as a means of regaining some feeling of security, which we had all lost that day. I had no one to reach out to so I focused on that little cat. She needed me and I needed her.

Everyone in the neighborhood had seen the little cat in their yards and the people next door to me actually thanked me for feeding her. "Oh, we're so glad you're doing that. Our girls were worried about her so we can tell them you're taking care of her."

Now, I personally thought that I would want my children to see me being kind to a stray, not leaving it to others, but I guess that's just me. At any rate,as the weeks progressed, I was able to get closer each time. Just as I was hoping that I might be able to actually pet her, the idiot ... person next door came to my house to tell me that they had fleas in their yard and his wife said it was the kitten so he was going to put poison down. I was horrified. Forget the fact that they had a dog and a rabbit in a hutch, all of whom may have been responsible for the fleas, but how can you justify poisoning a tiny stray who was just trying to survive? I wanted to ask if they were going to tell their little girls about their new plan. I have no kind words for that family (and fortunately, I no longer live next to them), so I'll continue with the story.

I was now desperate to get this cat out of harm's way. So the next time I put food down and she let me approach while she was eating, I grabbed her. She was a whirlwind of teeth and claws. I wasn't able to get her in the house, so I ran into the garage and she flew from my arms. The large car door had windows in it and she had no depth perception. She leapt through the air, thinking she'd escape through the window. Like something out of a cartoon, she hit the window and slid down the door to the floor. She spent the next three days hiding behind my late husband's large mechanic's tool boxes.

Three days later she emerged out of hunger and I grabbed her again, forcing her into a carrier. The vet fit me in and I had her tested for FIV and FeLV, vaccinated and obtained flea treatment. The tests came back negative and our fates were sealed. She would join my household (which included several other cats).

Within a month, I took her in for her spay and to have the necrotic eye removed. When I called to check up on her surgery result, the vet informed me that her heart had stopped during the operation and he had a difficult time reviving her. Though she survived, the vet told me he didn't think she'd live more than a year. She was fourteen when she passed.

The years weren't always kind to her - she suffered from chronic respiratory infections and was almost always congested. But she was also beautiful, gentle and loving. She would sit on my lap for hours and purr and knead.

Though we knew she was getting frail and might not be with us in a year or two, she was gone unexpectedly. We'd been to the vet with her the evening before and he told us he was becoming concerned, but her blood work wasn't terrible and her heart sounded good. I think he was as surprised as we were when she passed away the next morning. I awoke knowing something was wrong, and I can only pray that in those last few seconds as her little body was wracked with tremors, that she felt my hand on her and knew that she was surrounded by people who loved her.

Was is worth the pain I am feeling now? Yes. Tears are streaming down my face and my heart is broken, but I will never regret giving her fourteen years. And the love she gave me in return was priceless.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Saga of Amy and the Bee

The saga of Amy and the Bee ...

I woke up bright and early determined to make the most of the day. The dog had had a seizure the previous night so all of the bedding needed to be washed. I  grabbed an armload and went downstairs. As I was loading the washing machine, I kept imagining that I was seeing a black shadow.  I shook my head to clear it. Obviously, this is just some sort of scary basement thing. Wait! There it was again. Only this time, it was buzzing.

So now that I knew it wasn't my imagination but a huge bee, I beat a strategic (you can read that as hasty and the scream was only an attempt to scare it) retreat and returned armed with a small phone book and a bottle of Febreeze (give me a break - I didn't have any bug spray).

However, fortune favors the brave - and also apparently those armed with a phone book and Febreeze because when I returned, I found the bee was dazed and slowing. I put the phone book on the floor and waited. Now, waiting for a dazed bee to climb on a small phone book is akin to watching the proverbial pot of water until it boils. Not one to waste time, I carefully started the washer and dryer while waiting. In case you were wondering, shouting "hurry up" at a bee has absolutely no effect.

It finally climbed onto the book, and I covered it with a plastic cup and was able to relocate the bee to the projects (or outside, if you prefer).

A short time later, my husband calls to ask how my day is going. "Fine," I tell him. "I even got the bee out of the basement." I proceeded to tell him about the whole relocation project - okay, I may have left out the part about the Febreeze, but anyway you know what his response is? He asks, "Well, what kind of bee was it?"

What am I? An entomologist? Now, if you don't have an Asperger's-like Obsessive compulsive disorder, you might not appreciate this, or you might think I'm crazy - actually I might be, but anyway where was I? Oh yeah. What kind of bee was it? His suggestion that I "hit it with a rock" so he could identify it later got the cogs and wheels of my crazy going. By the time I hung the phone up, I'd become convinced that I had just set an Africanized - killer bee loose in my neighborhood. So, I now have to go outside (cursing myself for bringing Mr. Bee out front where all the neighbors could see my madness) and find the bee ... in the grass ... I did - which probably just tells you how deeply disturbed I am - and take several photographs of him - with me walking a careful line between getting close enough to see detail, but not close enough to get stung.

I then spent the next half hour online looking at skin-crawling insect recognition sites in order to identify the bee. Thankfully, I can now say with certainty that it was a Common Eastern Bumble Bee, although let's face it, after what it put me through, this bee was far from common.

I went back outside only to realize that I could not proceed with my plan to mow the lawn because Mr. Bee was still there and I'd be damned if my whole morning's struggle was going to be for naught. So, instead I went to Home Depot and bought mulch.

There I am happily mulching away when I hear this buzzing ...

Friday, October 10, 2014

How NOT to end up in a horror flick

Ah, October. Usually, I blog about my scary movie pics for the month. This is when my husband and I usually pick four horror movies and watch one each Friday night during the month. We are a little late picking our films this year although Tucker and Dale vs Evil is a gimme, and The Corpse Bride is already under our belts.

However, all this got me to thinking about how I can make sure that I never end up in a horror flick. I've come up with a list guidelines to follow to that end.

1 - No scary basements - Basements can be frightening, even without the threat of underground monsters and corpses. This is where normal household disasters such as floods can occur, and the ever present fear of finding some hitherto unknown giant insect only adds to their creepiness. I do confess that my own basement can be frightening. Those dark corners where you store things you never use (and let's face it that should mean you don't need to keep them) are unexplored territory. Who knows what doom awaits you when you do finally pull them out - for whatever reason.

At any rate, given their inherently spooky nature, it's best to minimize the risk by avoiding completely scary basements. It's much better to go for a finished basement, preferably one without those root cellar-style doors because those always seem to lead to an appearance in a slasher film complete with an eerie soundtrack and a masked villain who was abused at a summer camp.

2 - No scary attic This is only slightly less important than the basement issue. Attics are also breeding grounds for usually unseen insects, not to mention families of squirrels, raccoons and other interlopers. They are also classic places to find haunted items. They tend to have boxes that contain creepy old clothing, photos, books, and other mysterious items that might further the plot of a horror movie. It's harder to finish most attics, due to the necessity of town permits and expensive construction, so think carefully before purchasing a home with a creepy attic. For the record, crawlspaces are not much better.

3 - No weird street names Listen, when you're out shopping for a home, street names matter. Be straightforward with your realtor. Tell him or her that you do not wish to live on any streets containing the words Death, Kill, Blood, Bloody, Grave ... I could go on, but you get the picture. It's just better not to give any supernatural entities out there that might be looking for a new roosting spot any reason to think that your place should be their place.

Oh, and thanks to the Nightmare franchise, Elm Street is no longer an acceptable name. For that matter, since some otherworldly creatures like to behave in a manner contrary to our expectations, streets like Happy Place, Smile Path, and Wonderful Way should probably make it to the no-go list, as well.

4 - No town named Sanctuary Do I really need to explain this one? If there is one thing that generations of horror flicks should have taught us it is that a town named Sanctuary offers anything but. Ditto for places like Point Pleasant, Sunshine City, Happy Town, etc. As with street names, the reverse also holds true for town names. Avoid any townships that thought including words such as Devil, Slaughter, Kill, Blood, Grave, Skull or Witch in their name was a good idea. Oh, and any combination with the word 'Haven' is right out.

5 - No creepy collections (dolls, clowns/ventriloquist dummies/etc.) Even if I were a ventriloquist, I would have to find some spot outside of my home where I could leave the dummy.Everybody knows that someday, that doll will get up on its own and walk around stabbing people with a sharp blade (although for some reason, most of its murders will occur in silhouette). The same goes for antique dolls and clowns, which seem to be especially dangerous.

6 - No garbage disposal many a bright, cheerful, sunny day has been ruined by the impending doom of a clogged garbage disposal. If Hollywood is to be believed, it is impossible to clear one without some hapless plumber or well-meaning do-it-your-selfer losing a hand or at least a few fingers. Nope - it's far better to stick with the much safer sink strainer to dispose of food waste.

7 - Avoid Cemetery Proximity Never ... ever move or live near a cemetery. Now, in practice, I love cemeteries. I find them peaceful. I love to wander through the headstones and reflect on the lives lived by those memorialized on tombstones. However, let's face it, if Hollywood has taught us anything, it's to never live near one. First, there's a rainstorm, then some lines go down, and the next thing you know, dead people are calling you up and freaking you out. Interesting that though some of the occupants of older, historical graveyards probably never even knew what a phone was, they seem more than able to communicate via these phone lines. Death must endow our spirits with an innate supernatural knowledge of technology.

Several years ago, my husband and I drove by this cemetery sign. I was horrified. Perhaps the name is meant to express the hope that those interred there are enjoying an afterlife with the hosts of heaven, but I immediately thought, "My God! This will be Ground Zero for the Zombie Apocalypse!"