21 March 2014

Stella Luna, My Buffoona

In early 2000 Jerry and I were living in a small community on the northern California coast, and I did some volunteer work for the local humane society. When eight kittens were found abandoned in a cardboard box on the pier, we literally had the pick of the litter. We pulled up to the foster mom's cabin in the woods and a tiny ball of cream-colored fluff came bounding down the stairs and over to the car door to greet us. That was Geisha, soon to be renamed Stella Luna. We adopted her and her more reticent sister Mei, now China Rose.
From the very beginning, Stella Luna was a formidable presence. She was mellow, affectionate, demonstrative, and endearingly cross-eyed. Her voice, for such a large cat, was tiny. At her peak, she weighed almost 25 pounds. She was down to half that, partly due to conscious dietary changes on our part and eventually because of illness, at the end of her life.

For several years she was so hefty that she couldn't reach to groom her nether regions. Periodically, I did the deed with baby wipes. We had a song for the occasion: “Stella buttbath; Stella butt bath, Stell-el -la butt-a-bath,” to the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus.
Stella Balloona

Stella and I had conversations that went on for several minutes. She'd do a quiet meow; I'd respond in kind. I had no idea what I was saying; undoubtedly my accent was flawed.
Laziest hunter in the world
Stella was an avid windowside hunter. She'd lie on her back, a bird outside having caught her attention, and do that rapid-fire chirpy sound. One evening at Sea Ranch, where the skies were dark and a meteor shower was in progress, she and I settled down on the window seat to watch the show. Amazingly, she started chittering every time a meteorite flashed by. It was like a birdstorm in negative exposure; white against black. She reacted to every flash as if it were a bird flitting by.
She and China Rose, though sisters, weren't that fond of each other. Stella was passive aggressive to China's pure overt hissitude. 
Who, me? Passive aggressive?
A power vacuum materialized after our alpha male, Abbie, died in 2008, and the downstairs carpet and litter box area turned into a territory-marking pissing-match battlefield, with Ms. Luna the main transgressor. Not pretty.  

The dark side of Stella Luna: Peeing outside the box, including on our bedroom carpet, which resulted in permanent banishment and the necessity, on our part, of remembering to keep the damn door closed. Just about every cable, wire and connector in the house bears her teethmarks. She also loved to chew on Crocs, houseplants, and­ library books. Of course she preferred the dog's food, and would also finish China Rose's bowl before returning to her own. It's weird that I no longer have to concern myself with putting my shoes out of her reach. This afternoon I cleaned and stowed the huge litterbox she favored.

Stella would never be so crude as to directly knock objects from a shelf or table to the carpet. Instead, she'd casually stretch until she occupied the entire surface, nudging, say, a pile of books that would in turn -- if she was at the top of her game -- move a vase as well, eventually sending everything to the floor.

The most remarkable manifestations of Stella Luna's creative life were her nocturnal art installations. I documented her early efforts at http://www.jereva.com/lookwhat.htm and http://www.jereva.com/lookwhat2.htm, and her middle period at
http://revalani.blogspot.com/2011/01/look-what-cat-dragged-in-phase-iii.html. For the last few years, she explored the rag medium, dragging worn kitchen towels upstairs from a box in the basement. This would usually happen shortly after we'd gone to bed, and was always accompanied by a yowl that sounded as if she had a towel stuffed in her mouth, which of course she did.  
Except for a couple of perfunctory efforts – a rag or two out of the bin, downstairs, or a singleton on the floor – Stella pretty much abandoned her artistic expressions during the last two or three months. That, along with her diminished appetite, was a major red flag for us. There was more going on than a series of stubborn UTIs; something was seriously not right.
Last weekend she stopped eating entirely, and her legs could barely support her when she tried to walk. We took her to the vet on St. Patrick's day. An ultrasound showed tumors on both kidneys. Lab work confirmed acute renal failure. We said goodbye to Stella Luna the following afternoon.

Sophie seemed puzzled at first, but not upset; for the first couple of days she'd occasionally march over to spots that Stella had favored and look at me quizzically, as if asking "the entity that left this scent; where is she?" By now I think she's processed the mystery to her doggie satisfaction. I wish I knew what China Rose was thinking. It could very well be "Yay, that bitch is GONE." But 14 years, womb-mates... I wonder.

As for the humans, there'll be that low-level sadness for a while, with occasional tearbursts. We've been through this before. Knowing what to expect makes it a little easier, but doesn't shrink that Stella Luna-shaped hole in our hearts. Time will do that, I know.
Stella Luna and Abbie, circa 2008

25 October 2013

Two Retail Encounters

A petite Asian woman in a motorized scooter wheeled up to me in the wine department at TJ's and asked if I could help her. I thought she needed a bottle reached down from a shelf. But she wanted to know if I could recommend a wine to go with pasta – no, in a pasta dish she was making. “Does it call for a particular type of wine, a red... or a white?” No, she insisted, just a dry wine. “What's the recipe like? What else goes in the pasta?” Clams and linguine. Yay, bingo. “Usually,” I opined, that's made with white wine.” Oh, she added, and to drink with it, too. So we turned to the European whites and my eyes lit on a Muscadet, and that's what I recommended. I put a bottle in her basket, she thanked me and scooted off. A few minutes later the cheerful young employee who hangs out in the wine department asked me if I was finding everything I needed. "Yes, but," I joked, "I just did your job for you." Oh! she said, I saw that. I thought you were friends!

Same shopping trip, a little later, in the produce section at New Seasons. It's Wednesday, geezer 10% discount day, so the store is full of people even older than I am. As I'm reaching for the parsnips, a woman with an intent stare magnified by her glasses blurts out “Turnips. Know the best way to prepare them?” No, I do not. Tell me. “Raw.” You mean, like, grated? “No, just sliced. My kids, they used to eat them like potato chips.” She pauses. “Those grandkids, though? I can't even get them to touch 'em.”

My face in repose tends to go severe around the mouth. In photos I often look disapproving and unapproachable. It's called bitchy resting face, and it's a real Internet disorder. I've been reminding myself to smile more in public, at least relax those facial muscles. Apparently it's working. 

31 October 2011

Kitchen Remodel: Settling In

A month has passed since we began moving into our remodeled kitchen. We're delighted, and still congratulating ourselves on what a good thing we did. We love the smooth-closing drawer glides, the large, single-bowl stainless sink, the gorgeous quartz countertop that hides crumbs almost too well, the subtle under-cabinet lighting, the west-facing window that brings late-afternoon sun into the room as well as casual sunset views. We appreciate the more subtle improvements, too, such as logically positioned light switches that make which-controls-what intuitively obvious, instead of the random trial it remained during our first six years in this house. 

The inconvenience of our make-do cooking arrangements has faded from our minds, as I knew it would, along with the dust and noise and general household upheaval. The more we inhabit and move around the new space, the more we internalize new patterns and workflows, the more we bond with this delightful addition to our house. 

We bought a new teak table that, at first glance, is almost indistinguishable in size and style from our old one, which dates from my first marriage. But it has two self-storing leaves and will expand to seat ten. We haven't yet tried it in that configuration. We also upgraded a couple of smaller items, like the toaster oven, which has been with us for at least half our wedded life, and the salad spinner, which predates it.

Once we knew the proportions of the dining table, we could hang our "big art" on the wall behind it. The peppers are an airbrush painting by Jose Ramirez, a draftsman Jerry used to work with. It once hung in the stairwell leading to the basement. Damned if we can remember how we got it up there in the first place. Our efforts to rehang it were almost fatal; after a couple of attempts, we gave up. There's plenty of room for it in the kitchen proper. Mary Carter's Chicken Lady, a birthday gift from Jerry that arrived just as we were starting to pack up in preparation for the remodel, is finally in her rightful place. 

After that, smaller accents and refinements went in. Note, par exemple, the curvy toaster-oven, the aloe vera plant behind the sink -- no kitchen should be without one, and I have plenty to give away; just ask  -- and the cat door leading to the garage (below). 

Obviously I didn't tidy up before taking this series of photos. Hey, we're living here, people. 

The full-height backsplash behind the stove looks better, I think, with a bird on it.  (The photo is by Bill Perry, a former neighbor in Northern California.) 

I'm still amazed at how big this kitchen is. Even with the table extended and the butcherblock on wheels in the middle of the room, there's plenty of space to traverse and work without bumping into drawers, walls, appliances or each other. 

The dog and cats enjoy hanging out on the new deck; those squirrels are so tantalizingly close now. We have a screen and storm door on order, as well as a couple of railing-mounted holders for the hummingbird feeder, wind chimes and whirligig that used to hang from the rafters of the old deck. Eventually we'll put up an awning or some other roofing-like arrangement, but that's a project for another season.

The major item remaining on our punch list is a new pull-out work surface for the Hoosier cabinet. The tin top on the original one has worn thin -- and in some places through -- and Jerry was inspired to ask Crowley's, the company that fabricated our counters, to use part of the remaining slab to make a replacement. With any luck that'll be finished by the end of this week. 

Meanwhile, Red Molly has continued her unbroken* streak: an egg a day since she began laying on October 4th (*except for the days immediately before and after her two double-yolkers). And we're down to our last three homegrown tomatoes. I guess fall is really here. 

02 October 2011

Kitchen Remodel: Final (kinda sorta) Week

Last Monday, the 26th, was Jerry's birthday. He got a new kitchen. It'll never look this clean again.

I'm so glad we went for a full-height backsplash behind the cooktop. (The photo below was taken at night, with a flash; the cabinets really do match the rest of the room.)
Pantry area w/door to garage

Actually, the kitchen wasn't quite ready for action until a bit later in the week. Monday was all about ceiling and under-cabinet lights, switchplates, sink fixtures, appliance hookup, and touchup this and that.

The new refrigerator was delivered and installed on Tuesday. Our antique Hoosier cabinet will move to the same wall, next to the fridge, with the pot rack hanging above it. To tell you the truth, it's already in place, but I'm not sure I want to show you pictures yet of our pristine new space repopulated with our mundane old stuff.

Wednesday morning the city inspector came and dinged us on a few small items. He counted four stairs to the garage; we'd counted three. Four or more require a full railing, top to bottom. Steve returned and built an extension. It actually looks better now than the one we were busted on.

The existing rail on the basement stairs was also out of compliance. Its open ends presented a snag hazard; someone might catch a sleeve on one. The finish carpenter will return tomorrow to craft a new railing.
Killer Handrail
We also lacked carbon monoxide detectors within 15 feet of all bedrooms. Even though these are way outside the construction zone, current code requires them, and we must obey. Jerry bought and installed a couple, one upstairs, one down.

The inspector also had a question about the legacy outlets on the east and south kitchen walls; a conversation with the electrician should satisfy his concern. He'll return tomorrow or Tuesday, after the downstairs railing's completed, and hopefully sign off on everything.

I've totally bonded with my new toy -- I mean, the the solution I found to functioning in a Tall Person's Kitchen. It's been indispensable the last couple of days as I load the upper cabinets. Plus it's fun to kick around the room.
 The tomato season is waning, alas, but I managed to harvest two batches this week. Last night's dinner was pasta with fresh tomato sauce -- cooked by Chef Jerub, on our stove, in our kitchen. 

25 September 2011

I'd give summer a mixed review

Friday, the autumnal equinox, was mattress-flipping day at our house. As always, the turn of seasons (and mattresses) is cause for reflection. The remodel, despite a handful of hassles and hangups, is proceeding on schedule. We're beginning to talk about where things will live in the new kitchen. At dinner last night with friends, we allowed ourselves to fantasize about actually cooking, ourselves, again.

While we're waiting for the electrician, I want to bring y'all up to date on our backyard chicken situation. My friends who aren't on Facebook might not know that we lost a second hen this summer. Skip the next three paragraphs if you don't want to read about chicken angst; I just feel the urge to get it out.
Three weeks ago, Shelly, our blue-laced red Wyandotte, suddenly developed trouble walking. She'd take a couple of steps, then her legs would collapse under her, as if they couldn't support her weight. It didn't present like Rachel's neurological disorder. I thought maybe she was eggbound and gave her a warm water bath and other recommended treatment before taking her to the vet. She discovered a kidney infection, which might impact the femoral artery leading to the leg. We did a course of Clavamox for that, as well as Celebrex in case the problem was muscular or joint-related. After a week, not only was there no improvement, but Shelly had stopped eating and drinking. When it looked like I wouldn't be able to get a vet appointment til the following Monday, Chris and Tonya, a very kind and knowledgeable couple whom I know from the Portland Backyard Chickens list, came by to see her and offer some advice.

Luckily we did get into the clinic on Friday. They kept Shelly for the weekend, tube-feeding her and, finally, getting enough of a fecal sample to ascertain that her kidney infection was gone. That meant they could try a cortisone shot, a tactic that had gained Rachel six more weeks of relatively high-quality life. No miracles for Shelly, though; she still wasn't eating on her own, and her breathing became labored. Monday morning, after a long conversation with the vet, I authorized euthanasia and a necroscopy. 

The results of that were surprising. There had been nothing wrong with Shelly's digestive system, her reproductive tract, or her legs. What she did have was a huge fatty deposit in her abdomen and up one side into her chest -- more fat, the doc said, than she had ever seen in a chicken. And the fat had apparently constricted her heart to the point where the ventricles were a fraction of their normal size. Her liver was also fatty, though not tumorous. This has apparently been going on for months; untreated, she would probably have died soon, of congestive heart failure. What mystifies me is that she didn't present as an overweight bird, and wasn't a particularly voracious eater, even when it came to treats. It might have been something congenital in the way she metabolized fats. I've since heard of other Wyandottes that died of what might be similar causes. 

Hard as it is to believe, I've actually spared you some of the more squicky details. Okay, the rest of you, it's safe to start reading again.

Perhaps I'm becoming more hardened to the ups and downs of poultry-keeping, but I do know that chickens are social animals and that Maxine -- whether she liked it or not -- would soon have new companions. Last Thursday, the final day of summer, everything clicked into place. Jerry had an audiologist appointment in Oregon City. Tonya and Chris, who live down that way, had mentioned that, should Shelly not make it through, they had some "teenagers"-- pullets old enough to live outside, and on the brink of starting to lay -- available for rehoming. We got an early start so we could have lunch at a restaurant I wanted to try (I'd done a Master Gardener phone shift with the owner). Then I dropped Jerry off at his appointment and went to see some chickens.

Chris and Tonya have a flock of about 70 birds, all of whom they've named. They recently acquired another 15 or so from a neighbor who could no longer keep them. These were the pullets -- Easter chicks, most of them, now four to five months old -- available for adoption.

Without further ado, meet Red and Muffy.

Those are the first names I came up with, and they might not stick. Red, above left, is a Red Sex-Link, a.k.a. Red Star. Muffy is an Ameraucana. Note the "muff" around her neck and the tuft of feathers sticking out from her cheeks. Ameraucanas are also distinguished by the shape of their comb and the fact that, if you're lucky, they lay blue or green eggs. Some Ameraucanas, like the South American bird from which they derive, have no tail; Muffy is one of those. If my understanding is correct, that would make her an Easter Egger -- in reference to those colored eggs -- rather than a show-quality Ameraucana, but let's not get technical. By normal chicken standards, she's definitely quirky-looking. I think she's adorable.
Here's Maxine (below) -- a Barred Rock, since we're talking breeds -- giving Red the ol' stink-eye. Our original three were best buddies from the git-go, so this is the first time I've witnessed the pecking order working itself out. Max occasionally chases the youngsters, mostly away from food, and delivers perfunctory pecks now and then. But they share the same roost at night, and I'm pretty confident they'll work it out. It's only been three days, after all. How long did it take you to get used to new roommates?

"Red" is transitioning in my mind to Red Molly, after my favorite Richard Thompson song. She seems pretty ballsy. That way we'd have Maxine, Muffy and Molly -- or Max, Muff and Moll, in normal barnyard usage. Too cute, huh? Muffy doesn't really seem the preppy type her name conjures up, but perhaps she'll wear it ironically.

So, it was a grim summer for chickens, but things are looking up. It's also been a trying couple of months on the home-improvement front, but we knew what we were getting into, and we'll soon have a new kitchen to play in. And, despite dire prognostications back in June, it turned out to be a darned good season for tomatoes. Given our limited cooking facilities, we've had to eat most of them raw. I'm not complaining.

Kitchen Remodel: Week 5

The end is definitely in sight. This past week was all about surfaces -- floor, stairs and, at last, countertop. Here's the Marmoleum:

The color is called Eucalyptus. I was concerned that it would be too dark, but I think it'll be fine. The new garage stairs are also Marmoleum-clad, and edged with utilitarian metal trim. I'm glad we decided not to do the basement steps that way. 
Garage stairs and railing
The finish carpenter put in a long day Thursday doing baseboards, window and door trim, and probably a score of minutiae we haven't even noticed yet. I like this elegant turn on the stairs; we all know how much fussier a miter joint is than a butt joint:
The new basement stair carpeting is a tweedy mix that picks up the blues, greens and even a bit of the yellow in the kitchen area, and manages to harmonize with the old blue-green wall-to-wall downstairs. We made sure of all this in the showroom. Installed, you can't tell. It reads like a darkish neutral, and that's okay. Basement steps do not have to make a statement.
We're very pleased with the countertop. It's going to be a stretch for me, though, to reach those windows behind the sink. 
 In fact, as soon as the stove hood went in, I realized that this is going to be a Tall Person's Kitchen. I can barely reach the vent controls on tiptoe.
Accordingly, I ordered a Kik Step (tm) stool from Demco, a major supplier of library furniture. I haven't bought anything from them in more than 30 years. Kik Steps, like model Ts, used to come in just one color: black. Mine will be "Celery."

I'm happy that the countertop overlaps the sink by a smidge, instead of the other way around. I find that much more pleasing, and it will be easier to clean. In fact, I'm thrilled with the sink itself.
I'm grateful, too, even though the lighting isn't fully functional yet, that we've managed to normalize the wiring so that each switch controls the most logical (i.e. closest) set of lights. It wasn't that way in the old kitchen, nor is it so elsewhere in the house.

When the electricians left after rough-in three weeks ago (it seems a lot longer than that) they said "See you at finish." According to the schedule, that's tomorrow.

15 September 2011

Kitchen Remodel - End of Week 4

It's beginning to look a lot like Kitchen....

First, though, to conclude the Saga of the Stairs: the old ones are gone gone gone. For one night we were stairless entirely. Fortunately we had plans to be out for the evening.

Good thing Sophie and the cats heeded the yellow "caution" tape. (We did put up a plywood barricade as well, as much for our welfare as for theirs.)

The new stairs are a thing of beauty, relatively speaking. I'll never take them for granted. Once we got on the right track, they were done in a day.

Nothing in this picture is really this yellow

Painting is completed, except for touchup at the end. I don't think we made a mistake with the color; we'll know more when the other big color elements -- countertop and floor -- go in.

Remember that beam dividing the full-height ceiling from the dropped portion by the big window? Here's what that stretch looks like now:

Most exciting of all, the cabinetry guys worked all day yesterday, with these results:

The cabinets are maple. Right now I'm loving the look of the wood without any hardware, but the drawer pulls will go on soon. Hopefully they'll add rather than detract.

Most of the upper cabinets have frosted glass doors. The bottom ones all pull out. No more hunting in dark, obscure corners for a colander or a funnel! No more neck-wrenching reaching for the Kitchenaid mixer!  Everything closes softly, with a final damped drawing-to that's so cool to watch. I imagine it will lose its novelty eventually.

To the right of Jerry (below) is the built-in box that will enclose the new refrigerator. We measured; it should fit. We'll lose some potential fridge magnet surface, but it does look elegant this way:
 We spec'd the right-most pantry wider than the left to accomodate the wine rack that my Dad made decades ago. It's been living downstairs, in the guest room, since we've been in this house, and that's just not right. I hope we have the discipline, when it comes to putting our kitchen back together, to take the time to break old patterns in favor of new arrangements that make more sense.
Jer and I journeyed to Tualatin this afternoon to see our quartz countertop slabs for the first time. It turned out that we needed to cut into a second slab for the counter plus the 4" backsplash we'd envisioned. Once it became clear that we had to buy two slabs anyway, we decided to go for a full-height backsplash behind the stovetop. Still, there'll be a substantial remnant left over, enough for a bathroom vanity, I'm guessing. Anybody interested? Seriously, we'll probably put it on Craig's List.
 More to the point, I was relieved that we liked the color and pattern of the full-size slab as much as we liked the 12-square-inch sample we saw in the showroom. A good thing, since we'll be living with it for a long, long time.