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


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


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.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Edinburgh, Munich, Vienna, and Edinburgh

I'm woefully behind in blogging about my latest trip, but I was having way too much fun while I was there to sit and write about it. And the week since I got back has been a blur of long work days and a sinus infection. So now that I'm healthy and have a short break before my evening call with China... Picture it: Scotland, Saturday, August 3rd...


My trip to Munich had been in the works since November when I bought a ticket to the Robbie Williams show there, and when Jody entered my world, I knew I wanted to bring him along. Because the concert wasn't until Wednesday, I started the trip with a detour to my future hometown. Jody met me at the airport on Saturday, we got our favourite brunch at The City Cafe on Sunday, and just generally hung around avoiding the Fringe Festival crowds until it was time to catch our flight Monday afternoon.


Monday was a day filled with anxiety due to Jody's fear of flying, but we made it to German soil without incident -- I was really proud of how well he did on the plane. After catching a train into the city, getting lost following Google's incorrect walking directions, and settling for whatever food was available at the only non-fast-food place that was open, we collapsed in our hotel around midnight.

Munich was hot during our visit, so every time we'd wander out for a while, we'd spend at least as long back in the room's glorious air conditioning, getting ourselves back to a normal temperature. On Tuesday afternoon we took a walk to Marienplatz, doing some shopping along the way, then sat and relaxed at an outdoor cafe until we felt the desire to stroll back. On Wednesday we did a bit more wandering, and I saw the gig I'd been anticipating for months, but the highlight of Munich was definitely Tuesday night.

That night as we lounged in our hotel room, a thunderstorm flashed, rumbled, and pounded the window with rain. Looking at the weather, Jody told me that his Plan A to take me up on the roof for a romantic view of the city wasn't possible, so he was going ahead with Plan B... which was to kneel down and propose to me right then and there. Of course I said yes, and we spent the rest of the night celebrating and sharing the news of our engagement.


We took the train to Vienna on Thursday, which was a city I had never really planned to visit, because I'd always heard "Austria is a beautiful country; shame it's full of Austrians." I wasn't terribly interested in the place itself, and a land of unfriendly people didn't appeal to me. However, I was pleasantly surprised by both the people we met and how pretty the city itself was. We spent most of our time there being generally touristy and enjoying the food (try Almdudler if you get the chance), but it was even hotter than Munich, and we weren't sad to leave the possibility of melting behind on Saturday.


The last night of our trip was back in Edinburgh, away from the crowds in a more isolated hotel than the one we started in. Jody's glowing reviews of the bus system got me on one, only to find out the driver gave us bad information and we were going totally the wrong place. Beyond that brief adventure, though, we spent a quiet night dreading going back to the airport in the morning.

Now that I'm back in Seattle, all my energy is devoted to getting myself back to the UK, permanently this time. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Very Long Distance Relationship

Yes, it's true. The commitment-phobe who has spent nearly a decade avoiding calling anyone her boyfriend is now completely happily in a relationship. With a Scotsman. Who lives in Scotland.

Not only have I avoided relationships since my divorce, I've made it very clear that I don't do long distance. All talking and no sex? What's the point of that? I remember a few years back when a friend was going on and on about his long distance girlfriend, who he'd met over the internet machine. "It's true love," he said, "She's moving here so we can be together." I laughed. I told him that was utter insanity, an adolescent fantasy, nothing that could ever possibly work out.

But here I am, ready to move halfway around the world after only a few months. Because, as Harry says in When Harry Met Sally, "When you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."

How did it happen? Twitter, Aberdeen football, a mutual friend called Calum... just a lot of tiny decisions in both our lives that brought Jody and I together. He believes in The One, all things happening for a reason, and that we just had to find each other. I think everyone gets one great love of their life -- be that a person, an activity, a thing -- and I'm incredibly lucky to have found mine by coincidence and social media.

So how does it work? Lots of Skype, mostly. And British Airways. A week ago yesterday, I was on a plane back from spending a few days in Edinburgh with Jody -- a visit that only confirmed that I need to be living there, getting on with our life together.

That's why I've had a complete lack of bitterness lately, why I've been smiling all the time, and listening to sappy songs, and why my friends keep threatening to shoot down all the cartoon bluebirds that currently surround me. In spite of the huge distance, this is the best relationship I've ever had, the happiest I've ever been.

So I have nothing snarky to end this with. Just a big goofy grin and a hope that this happens for everyone I know, because it's awesome.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Heaven aka Centre Bell

After many years of being a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, I finally got to see them at home last night. And it was one of the greatest nights of my life.

It's hard for non-sports fans to understand the love one can have for a team, how their wins and losses, their hot streaks and injuries, can affect us as deeply as if we're members of the squad ourselves. And there's something about Les Canadiens that makes that run even deeper. Habs fans don't just love our team, we bleed the bleu-blanc-rouge. As the Habs go, Montreal goes.

So you can imagine my sheer ecstasy at getting to be in their building, surrounded by fellow obsessives of le tricolore. I figured if I was going to make the trip to Montreal for a game, I'd get the best seat possible (5th row, Habs end of the ice, right in front of the faceoff circle), against our most hated rivals, the Boston Bruins.

The atmosphere was incredible. The team played beautifully, fast and intelligent, not falling into the thuggish bang-and-crash style of the Bruins. I shouted Go Habs Go and sang the Ole song until my voice was close to leaving me. I booed Zdeno Chara* every time he touched the puck.

And we beat those classless Boston excuse-monkeys 2-1.

A few Bruins fans were also in attendance, including 2 young boys seated next to me for the third period. They were part of a family split into two sections, so for the 3rd, the boys (aged probably 8 and 10) were left alone beside me. As soon as the period was underway, one of the kids started in with smack talk -- the Habs are garbage, Josh Gorges sucks -- so I glanced over at him, and our eyes met. Silence. I didn't give him a look by any stretch of the imagination, just briefly met eyes.

He didn't utter a single negative word for the rest of the game. Neither did I, for that matter.

In the end, I was in too good a mood to say anything rude to anyone. I fell asleep happy last night, hoping to be back for more games, but satisfied with the experience if it never happens again.

*It has been 2 years since a mega-check from Chara left my hockey crush and perennial Montreal favourite Max Pacioretty with a broken vertebra and a severe concussion. The hit was deemed clean by the league, but was so hard and damaging that legal charges were considered. Even though Max made an amazing recovery and had a career year in 2011-2012, Habs fans still boo the Boston captain every time he touches the puck. I think we will forever, and I think that's completely fair.