Friday, October 24, 2014

Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont

A few months ago, I started missing my travels. I don't miss flying constantly or giving way too much money to airlines, because I still do that. But it's just part of my commute between where my heart lives, and where the rest of me has to live most of the time. I miss going places I've never been. Exploring. So I decided to make it a point to visit the states I hadn't been to before, which is about half of them, before moving out of the US. And that's why now, after some previous cancellations due to circumstances beyond my control, I find myself in Bennington, Vermont.

Around the time I started looking for new places to go, Sam Roberts Band posted their US tour schedule for this fall, which included a show in Portland, Maine. I'm not much of Sam Roberts groupie, but I can say that I never tire of seeing him live. As I've said before, music is like a relationship. The records can be the crush and the courtship, but the live show is like sex -- it can make or break it, no matter how well things are going. For example, much as I still enjoy Camera Obscura's music, their live show was so boring that I lost the infatuation. They didn't seem to want to be there, so neither did I. But Sam Roberts Band took an enjoyment of the albums and made me fall in love at the first live gig I attended. So they were a good enough excuse for me to spend a long weekend seeing New England in a rental car.

I took the red eye Wednesday night, and my connecting flight had mechanical issues, which meant I got to my Portland hotel around noon yesterday, on no sleep whatsoever. After a loooong nap, I wandered downtown a bit, had pizza with mashed potatoes and bacon on it, tried a local beer, and went to the show, which was fantastic as always. Portland reminds me of a hipper, slightly bigger, friendlier Juneau, Alaska. And I can't really explain what that means unless you've been there. It's just an attitude thing, I think.

This morning, jet lag got the best of me and I didn't hit the road until midday. I fired up the Garmin app and headed to Cape Elizabeth to take a photo of a lighthouse, because one can't leave Maine without a lighthouse photo. It's one of those laws no one ever tells you about, but that counts toward the Three Strikes legislation nonetheless. I walked out toward the water and snapped a few pictures, but soon became fearful that I, or at least my phone, was going to get blown off the rocks and into the breakers, so I turned back and pointed the little red Ford Fiesta toward New Hampshire.

Unfortunately my phone had no signal out on the cape, so I couldn't use my satellite navigation app and had to trust my pre-printed just in case directions to get me on my way. Of course that went poorly, and I drove miles through beach towns (which were completely interchangeable with every Washington or Oregon beach town I've ever been to) before finally reconnecting with the guiding satellites and getting back on track. It guided me to Concord, New Hampshire, where I spent maybe half an hour wandering Main Street and looking at the State House, before setting me off again toward Vermont. It got dark not long after I crossed the state line, so I haven't seen much of the third state in my day yet, but I'll rectify that tomorrow.

This is my first attempt at using this particular sat nav app, and so far I have mixed feelings about it. Probably 60% of the time it has been useless, either because it can't find gps, it can't figure out where I'm telling it I want to go, or it "can't calculate route," which I take to be the high-tech version of can't get there from here. On the other hand, the Englishman giving me directions is always very patient, and calmly states the new route when I inevitably fail to follow his instructions. He never shouts, "Where are you going? You've missed another turn, you twat!" which is what I tend to say when assisting the driver with directions. I'm going to give the app another day, but really wish I could download that special add-on with Billy Connolly's voice; he'd definitely say something rude to me when I went the wrong way.

Navigational issues aside, though, it was quite a nice several hours of driving -- no big multi-lane interstates, just winding, leafy, highways that slow to 25mph to become Main Street in endless small towns. I came here with no particular agenda beyond the concert, reserved hotels in a couple of arbitrary cities, and found routes in between. After I had my flights, I did some research on road trips in the area, and they all centered on autumn leaves and covered bridges, so I ignored them. I haven't seen any covered bridges as yet, but I have seen a hell of a lot of multicolored foliage. It's pretty. It is. And I guess this much of it would be really fascinating if you're excited by such a thing. I, personally, was more excited by the many signs telling me to watch for what was crossing over the next few miles. Mostly it was moose, occasionally deer, and once snowmobiles. But I never saw any of the three, despite very keenly watching for moose, deer, and snowmobiles in my path.

At any rate, when you're trying to get somewhere specific on a road trip, all you care about is getting there, as quickly and easily as possible. When the point of the road trip is the road, it's just the next curve, the scenery in the distance, and the song on the radio. It's so much easier to enjoy.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

An Independent Scotland. I Hope.

In about 4 hours, polls will open, allowing the people of Scotland to vote for or against independence. To decide their country's future.

It's been fascinating watching them get to this point. I've paid close attention to Scotland ever since my grandmother's Scottish relatives claimed little toddler me as one of their own, and in recent years have visited regularly, but I've spent the most time there over the past year and half that Jody and I've been together.

When we first discussed the independence referendum early on, Jody joked that it was my job to figure out how he should vote. Since then, he's gone from someone who was disillusioned with politics to a registered member of a party and an active Yes campaigner. Which is about how the rest of the country has progressed as well. Last year, when the subject came up, everyone was undecided, taking the wait-and-see approach. As we got a few months closer, the most common sentiment I heard around Edinburgh was a lack of trust in the information coming out of both parties: "I wish someone impartial would give us the real story." People just wanted to know what would happen in the event of yes or no, and they didn't think anyone was telling them.

Jody's campaign efforts - photo from @YesScotBorders on Twitter
As the day of reckoning approached, impartiality was still lacking. People moved into their Yes or No camp, and those groups diverged. With the rest of the UK and all the major media outlets behind it, the No campaign went for standard political tactics of press and big names. The Yes campaign went grassroots. And as could've been predicted, No pushed fear and big media misinformation, while Yes pushed hope and social media fact checking.

When the headlines said the Royal Bank of Scotland was leaving if independence went through, I learned on Twitter that actually only an address on some paperwork would change. When the big heads came out of Westminster and offered more powers for Scotland, the internet pointed out there was nothing specific on the table and found the posts of MPs vowing to block any new powers anyway. While the news is pushing people to No, Pub conversations are converting people to Yes.

But either way, big media or grassroots, something's working. It has been reported that 97% of those eligible are registered to vote in the referendum, and the turnout is expected to be over 80%. Eighty percent of the population showing up to tick a box next to Yes or No. Whatever the outcome, people are engaged. People are talking about their country, about how things can and should be. And that can only be good for Scotland.

I decided some time ago that I'm all for Independence. If I could, I'd be voting yes. There are so many good reasons to vote yes, but to my mind, the only reasons for voting no are sentimentality, fear, lack of awareness, or being wealthy enough that the Tories' shenanigans actually benefit you. I can forgive the first and last reasons; if you really feel -- heart over head -- that you need to be a citizen of the United Kingdom, or you're driven by your vast finances, then fine. I don't agree with you, I think it's a selfish way to vote, but I can forgive it. The other two have no excuse. If you're voting no out of fear, or because you haven't gone out to investigate the issues for yourself, you're playing right into the hands of the No campaign. Like Republicans and their Fox News here in the States, they want to keep people afraid of their own shadow, because that makes them easy to manipulate with misinformation. Voting no for those reasons means you're willing to keep being controlled and shat on when you could have better.

I don't get a vote. I'm not a citizen. I don't live in Edinburgh. Yet. But the Scottish people are deciding my future  tomorrow too. Because Scotland is my part-time home, where the man I'll marry lives, where I'd be living full time now if at all possible. So I'm counting on 5 million people I don't know to make the right choice on my behalf.

Vote Yes.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Kitty Hospice. Again.

There's a piece of wisdom among those with multiple cats that they all come in separately, but they leave together. Unfortunately I'm finding that hold true as, 3 months after losing Zooey, I have another cancer-riddled cat with a grim prognosis.

For the past few weeks, Selby has been having issues that pointed first to her lungs, and then to her throat, but no medication was giving her more than minor improvements. At a loss, the clinic called on a specialist who looked at her x-rays, gave her an ultrasound and did needle biopsies of 2 large masses, both of which came back malignant. She has cancer spread from her back into her ribcage and in one lung, with possibly more we haven't seen up toward her nose and throat. She's 15 years old. Based on what they found, chemo isn't an option, and surgery (which would be pretty hard on her given the tumor locations) usually gives less than 6 months before it comes back.

So I was offered the contact information for an oncologist, but I don't know that I see the point. I'm going to pick up more medication tomorrow to try to keep Selby comfortable in the time she has left, which the doctor said would be a month, then paused and added with forced optimism, "maybe more."

I've had animals all my life, ever since my parents brought me home from the hospital to meet their two dogs, and if I was able to choose just one to live forever, it would be Selby. Maybe because I've raised her from 6-8 weeks old until nearly age 16, or because she's been with me through all the best and worst times of my adult life, or because I grew into the person I am today with her always sitting in my lap, but she's more a part of me than any other cat or dog has ever been. I can't imagine life without this talkative little Canadian beast demanding I drop everything and be her furniture.

I remember taking her in to get spayed when she was a few months old, and they had to keep her overnight. When we went to pick her up, the person was gone for what seemed like a long time, then returned and asked me to come in the back. I had a flash of worry, what could possibly be wrong? I found Selby stubbornly clinging to the rear wall of her kennel, refusing to let anyone touch her. As soon as they opened the door, she leapt out into my arms. That's the moment I knew that no matter how many people or other cats I loved (who she treated with something between tolerance and affection), it would always be me and Selby against the world.

Which just makes me have more superstitious guilt about naming her after the brilliant writer Hubert Selby Jr, who was also one of a kind and has meant a lot to me, but also had his share of health problems. Here's some of his bio on biography.com:


Hubert Selby Jr., perhaps best known for his novel Last Exit to Brooklyn, was born on July 23, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York.

Selby went to sea as a merchant marine while he was still in his teens. Laid low by lung disease, he was, after a decade of hospitalizations, written off as a goner and sent home to die. Deciding instead to live, but having no way to make a living, he came to a realization that would change the course of literature….

Selby died of chronic pulmonary disease on April 26, 2004, in Los Angeles, California. At the time of his death, he was working on an autobiographical novel and screenplay, in addition to teaching a graduate writing class at the University of Southern California.


My Selby came out of the SPCA as a young kitten, underweight, with parasites, a respiratory infection, gastro-intestinal issues, and no training from her mother on how to be a proper cat. From there she went through fatty liver disease (which nearly killed her), multiple eye infections, loss of a couple infected teeth, chronic inflammatory bowel syndrome, and asthma. If she nearly died and fought back through the health issues like her namesake, I just hope she goes out still active like he did too.

So to that end, I'm off to resume my hospice nurse duties, give Selby a cuddle, and see what I can do to improve her day.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Days of Zooey

I always have to shake my head when people call me a crazy cat lady, because I’ve never adopted an animal while single... but I have lived with 3 strange felines for the last decade, and they all came to me along with a story. Zooey’s story is not only the most recent – although it happened nearly 11 years ago – but the strangest.

My Zooey, 1993 - 2014
In the early 2000s, my ex-husband and I lived for a year in a fairly laid back and hippie type of Seattle neighbourhood. On the day we moved in, lots of people gawked, only the lady next door said a word to us, and a long-haired calico cat hung around the back yard keeping an eye on things. And that was how it stayed for the next several months.

In a misguided attempt to be domestic, I’d go out every morning to fill the bird and squirrel feeders, always with a little black, orange, and white fluff ball at my feet. If I tried to pet her, or even looked down, she’d step back and pretend it was all a coincidence that she was nearby. Not realizing that her colouring indicated female genes, I started calling her Wally and keeping a closer eye on her.

Over time I started to notice that Wally never seemed to leave the back yard. I hadn’t seen her anywhere else for a couple of months, and she was looking worse for wear. Next Door Lady said to leave her be, she’s a neighbourhood cat, she could take care of herself. But I didn’t buy it. Wally was skinny, had badly matted fur and fleas, and slept every night huddled against our kitchen window for warmth. She also seemed to be living on only what she caught in my back yard, the remains of which she left on my doorstep. We’d had enough. I took her to the clinic, got her cleaned up and healthy, found out her real gender, and introduced her to the household as Zooey – named after JD Salinger’s famous title character, but pronounced in a female way.

The woman next door wasn’t thrilled with our kidnapping of the neighbourhood cat, and when I said that all I did was rescue an animal who was clearly in need, she grumpily told Zooey’s supposed owner to come get her. When he appeared, Zo had been happily in my house for 2-3 months, and his first words were, “I think you have my cat. I haven’t seen her in about 3 weeks.” Which only convinced me more that I’d done the right thing.

He explained that he’d had Zooey (fittingly named Perdida, which is Spanish for lost) since the fall of 1993 when he’d taken her home from a Free Kittens box outside a grocery store.  Since that time she’d wandered the neighbourhood, rarely going “home” to see him (since he was often out of town anyway), and mostly living off the kindness of the street’s residents. He claimed that Zooey was just annoyed with him for getting another cat and would much rather go back to her old life. When I let him in to see her, though, she ran and hid, making it clear that she had no intentions of leaving with him. He gave in and left, saying sadly, “I’ve had her for 10 years. It’s like losing a kid.”

When my brother heard the story, he looked around, confused: “Wait... Didn’t I have a kid around here somewhere?”

Despite the guy’s poor cat parenting, I do understand the feeling. I lived with Zooey for 10 years – closer to 11, really – and it is like losing a kid.

For the past decade+, Zooey was the healthiest and most active of my three cats, despite being the oldest.  So when she started acting like she felt unwell last month, I didn’t expect to take her to the clinic and see an x-ray of lungs covered in lines, spots, and shadows. I lay awake that night, listening to the small raspy sound in Zo’s breathing as she slept on my feet, wondering how long she’d been having respiratory problems without my noticing. It seems that her relatively good health otherwise (blood work still showed the rest of her organs being in great shape while her lungs deteriorated), and her always cheerful personality had allowed her to hide that she’d been struggling for a while.  

The radiologist determined that it was almost certainly lung cancer, but she probably wouldn’t have survived the biopsy to find out for sure. Even if she did, I couldn’t put her through harsh treatments for the off chance of adding a few days or weeks to her life. Nervous system damage is also common for cats with lung problems, so her ailments included a bad eye and occasional difficulty with her coordination. At some point she also put so much effort into trying to catch her breath that she cracked her ribs.

So I worked with the doctors to get her on medication to keep her feeling good and not gasping for breath too often. I spent all my time and energy caring for her. I postponed travel plans, worked from home, and skipped every social event, because she seemed to feel her worst when she went without me for a few hours. And she continued to get sicker.

At her checkup last week, the doctor said she was so frail that she could go at any time, and I may want to consider euthanasia before she got really bad. But Zooey was feeling okay, getting stronger… wasn’t she? She was so happy to see me all the time. She’d have a rough day or two and I’d think maybe it was time to stop her suffering, then she’d purr and look up at me lovingly with her sweet little face, and I couldn’t do it.

But then I realised that maybe she wasn’t actually improving or happy, she was just doing her best to hang on for me. And that maybe I was dwelling on the few positives over all the negatives, because I didn’t want to let go. So after taking some time to look realistically at the situation, it became clear that euthanasia was the best I could do for Zooey. I gave myself a literal deadline of my flight to the UK this afternoon, even while having constant urges to change or cancel my trip to keep her a bit longer.

Despite all my plans, though, I moved my flight to tomorrow and spent one last day with Zooey. And today, instead of heading to the airport, I stood with the phone in my hand, watching her struggle for air, for 20 minutes before I finally willed myself to press the call button and make an appointment. She took her last breath, peacefully and without having to fight for it, around 4:30 this afternoon.

So tomorrow I fly off to cry on Jody, but tonight I’m going to celebrate Zooey's long, happy, and very loving life, at home with my two cats. We'll miss her.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

CBC's Presentation of When Sarah Met Jody

Earlier this week, hearing about CBC budget cuts and the last taping of George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, I felt sad. I took it personally. The CBC has done so much for me, from being the major factor in my becoming a Habs fan (seriously, enough with the Leafs broadcasts being default! They're so boring I relearned French just to be able to watch a different team on Saturday nights), to getting me a husband and changing my entire life.

For real. I am not exaggerating. I met Jody because of Calum Shanlin, who I got to know because of George Stroumboulopoulos, whose radio show I was enjoying because of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

I first saw George on MuchMusic when I lived in Canada, way WAY back in the day, so when I saw that he had a show called The Hour on CBC, I had to watch.* And I kept watching. I even went to a taping of the show in Vancouver. He's hands down the best interviewer anywhere, but he's also a giant music nerd (which is a compliment coming from me). So when he mentioned he also had a show on CBC Radio 2, I started tuning in.

A couple of years ago, George started bringing a Scottish guy on the radio show, and each week he'd talk about 3 bands from one country. I was enjoying the segments and had just entered the Twitterverse, so when George said "You can follow @calumshanlin on Twitter," I did.

And because I'll talk to anyone if I have something to say, I talked to Calum (most people call him Shanlin, I use either name, at random) and he immediately replied with a snark level that made me say, "Yep. I could be friends with this guy."

Later, after we'd continued speaking for a while, hockey got locked out, and the only sport that seemed to be on TV was English Premier League football. Desperate for something athletic to watch, I asked the Tweety what team to follow. Shanlin said something rude about the EPL and told me to follow Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership instead. I've rarely been led astray by a Scotsman -- at least not in a bad way -- and I've never regretted having the Scotland rugby team break my heart for the past 15 years, so I took his advice and gave Aberdeen a try.

And I got hooked. And Calum moved temporarily back to Scotland. Which was how he happened to be in Peebles with Jody watching Aberdeen play Ross County, while I was attending the game at Pittodrie.

I wasn't there, but I've been told that because he was tweeting at me, Shanlin explained to Jody who I was, and how he'd been responsible for me becoming an Aberdeen fan. He may just be trying to butter me up, but my darling fiance claims that his reaction was "She's fucking hot! And a Dons fan! A must follow."

A couple of days later when Shanlin and I went to see our favourite band, he told me Jody was a friend of his who was worth talking to, so I did. And have continued to do so every day since.

So that's how I found my other half. And that's why I'm writing this at Heathrow, very sleep deprived and waiting for my onward flight to Edinburgh, where I now spend a large amount of my time, and will eventually live full time. My life is completely different, and better, now... and if you trace it all back, it starts with the CBC.

Yeah, I think I have good reason to feel personally connected to a broadcaster. Thanks, CBC. Let me know if I can ever do anything for you, K?
 

*About the only perks of living in Seattle are its proximity to Canada and availability of the CBC on cable.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Denver

This is my first time in Denver, at least beyond the airport. It's a city that never interested me, and now, having been here... still doesn't.

Don't get me wrong, it's a lovely town. The people here seem very friendly and polite, it's pretty to look at, and -- at least this weekend -- the weather is beautiful. But it's boring. Denver has never had any draw for me, no big tourist activities that piqued my interest. So what finally got me here? Hockey.

Wishful thinking or not, I may not have many NHL seasons left in North America, so I want to see my beloved Montreal Canadiens as much as possible while I'm still here. When I noticed their game against the Colorado Avalanche was on a Saturday night, only a two hour flight away, I checked tickets; they were available, and cheap by NHL standards. So I got myself a 2nd row seat in the Montreal end of the ice, used air miles for a free plane ticket, and grabbed a discounted hotel room downtown. Nothing to lose.

Except the game.

Colorado has been playing amazingly this season, and they were unsurprisingly solid last night as well. Montreal, on the other hand, wasn't good at all. They continuously handed over the puck, spent too much time in their own zone, and when they got the chance to shoot, they hung around waiting for the Avs to take the puck back instead of attempting to score. As great as it was to have Max Pacioretty back in the lineup after his injury, he looked rusty. I cheered my voice away encouraging the Habs, but they deserved the loss, 4-1.

So I wasn't particularly heartbroken when I left the game, just frustrated. To put it like everyone's parents: I wasn't angry, just disappointed. Because they should have been better.

Still, it's always great to see my boys close up. Denver may not be the most exciting place, but I got to cheer for my Habs and visit somewhere new. And instead of stormy Seattle, I got a sunburn on top of a mountain where it was sunny and summery warm. So overall, I'll put this weekend in the win column.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Limbo


I am currently miserable.

For some reason, despite Frightened Rabbit coming through my headphones right now, I heard that sentence spoken by Ron Howard in my head, like the first line of an Arrested Development episode. 

Sarah [not Bluth] is currently miserable. 

It’s not because I’m attempting to type this on a laptop I can only open halfway, in a cramped economy seat from Heathrow to SeaTac, although that’s a contributing factor. No, I’m miserable because this morning I left Edinburgh to head back to normal life, back to being stuck in Limbo.

I had planned to be moving to Scotland about now, stressing over how my cats would take to air travel, planning my wedding. But it turns out the UK visa process is going to be much more difficult than the Home Office originally made it sound, and I’m stuck in Seattle for the foreseeable future.

It’s extremely frustrating to finally know exactly where you should be spending your life, and with whom you should be spending it, only to have something out of your control delay it happening. I’ve done my best to be positive, to appreciate all the great things and weigh them above the shit ones, but in truth I’m fed up.

I’m fed up with the long flights back and forward. Fed up with only getting the life I should be living with Jody short term, in hotels, dreading the day I'm back at the airport. Fed up with Skype, and with countdowns to the next visit.

I’m fed up with feeling like my life is on pause most of the time.

And despite knowing that I’ll be back in 5 weeks, and that I have nearly enough British Airways miles to get a free round trip to the Moon, and even that one day I’ll manage to cut through all the red tape and get to real life, right now I hate it. I hate this journey, I hate the day to day back in Seattle, and I hate not being able to change it.

But you know what I love? Jody. Who is 100% worth all of this hassle.

And I also love breakfast. Which we always say is the most important thing.