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Dancing with the devil


The quiet steady life as I knew it fell apart in May 2012. My father was painfully waiting for his aorta valve replacement surgery, and he didn’t make it to the surgical ward. He collapsed outside of his house and while his neighbors valiantly tried to resuscitate him, it was too late.  Just a week prior he checked himself into the emergency room, and cited excruciating pain and problems breathing, but was discharged with no instructions for bed rest, immediate admittance or moving up the surgery date. Say what you will about our medical system, but in our family this is the second time they have failed to provide prompt medical attention with ghastly results. (My brother waiting 48 hrs for an appendectomy that led to sepsis being the first one).

His premature passing led to a cascade of unintended consequences. He died with a handwritten will that he gave to me just a few days before his death, wheezing and puffing, his legs swollen with severe edema. The will had some unique provisions that led to a protracted probate process. His house could not be unattended for insurance and complex legal purposes, so my boyfriend at the time and I packed our house and cats and moved into my fathers’.  Worst of all, my grandmother was left alone with rapidly progressive dementia. She was 89 at the time of his passing, and had only light symptoms of cognitive decline. After her sons death it progressed quite quickly, and I was left as her power of attorney. Her other son, my uncle, lives in California and it would be too hard for him to have stewardship over her numerous health affairs from over there.

My father’s house was cluttered, as though he was practicing to audition for hoarders but couldn’t quite commit himself to go all out. From his 1,200 square foot house we’ve thrown out at least two full dumpsters of stuff. The large ones that you pay someone to drop off and tow to the dump when you’re done. Unfinished projects, a work library that he will no longer need, scraps and bins and bags and piles. Anything salvageable was donated to the goodwill, or spread out across friends and family members. As though sensing it was without his owner, the townhouse proceeded to fall apart one expensive item at a time.  Most of the appliances stopped working within a month. The hot water tank went a short while later. The heavy, brass tub faucet exploded from the tub denting the ceiling. The toilet leaked, a railing collapsed, the house number fell off and swung comically from its hinge.

My grandmother suddenly needed a great deal more care. As her illness progressed she moved from nursing home to nursing home with ever increasing levels of security. At the beginning there were instances where she would leave to go on imaginary errands, get lost and be returned by a kind police officer. The meetings with her nurses and doctors became more frequent. She needed more and more attention and constant involvement in her care. Anyone who has cared for a relative through a progressively worsening illness knows the relentless and difficult tasks that must be done and the hours and hours of driving to and from doctors, nursing homes and medical supply stores.

My thirteen year relationship imploded under the sudden realization that life is short and we are nothing but roommates. It was a good and companionable relationship in some ways, and in many ways was full of deep and irreconcilable differences. The kind that often creep up when you start dating in your early twenties and grow into very different people over the next decade. The breakup was dramatic in some very inconvenient ways, but settled into a relative lack of resentment over the next couple of years.  The breakup fallout ended a deep and beautiful but flawed friendship with my best friend of 20 years, simply because I had no emotional bandwidth for anyone but myself.

In the meantime I was entering the home stretch of my accounting designation program, and for lack of a better expression, shit suddenly got real. All my final course textbooks had lofty titles like Auditing: The Art and Science of Assurance Engagements, or equally readable Modern Advanced Accounting in Canada, and the final exams for the designation were purported to be grim. Just reading the how to prepare for these exams had me in a cold sweat several times. Anyone who’s written professional exams knows the stress, pressure and the high stakes of that time period. It’s basically a time to bow your head, study, exercise for sanity and pray. In my case the stakes felt extra high as I had to challenge advanced taxation as well as write the two four hour exit exams. Since I was in the last session of students before the final amalgamation of designations, I had only one chance to pass the exam. If I failed, I’d have to continue to the CPA program and take yet another exam prep course and write an even more challenging exam. No pressure.

Life became a relentless attempt at survival. Every moment of every day was allocated to something useful. Work breaks were for studying. Sunday mornings were for grocery shopping. Lunch breaks were for handling the endless demands from grandmother’s care team and my father’s estate. Self care was reduced to really, really enjoying showers and meals and sleep.  Meditation and exercise became critical – I meditated on the bus on the way to work, and exercised on the walk home from work, or the odd weekly workout. Practicing mindfulness changed from an abstract exercise to a very real necessity to protect the mind from the relentless barrage of things to do, hard stressful things to do that marched on and on like a grim parade.  There were times when curling up in the fetal position was the only sane thing to do, and my sense of humor was getting downright grim. And there were days when I felt like a hunted animal besieged by forces beyond my control, all clamoring for attention. Grieving had to be done piecemeal while dealing with lawyers, doctors, grandmother, school, revenue canada, a brother and cousin struggling with a drug addiction, a mother who needed support, house repairs and a new job.

In a moment of desperation I went to see a respected feng-shui professor, a family friend of a girlfriend. I was sick with a bad cold and pumped full of medication. It was a dark January evening and as I sipped hot tea in his kitchen I was barely able to follow his drawings. He laid out my horoscope and house plan. He told me that from 25-36 would be the hardest decade of my life. Everything would be hard – work, school, family, you name it. Everything would be a struggle and I tell you, did I want to say ‘you’re not kidding, I’m living it,’ but my throat hurt too much to talk.  Then he told me that 36-45 would be the happiest decade of my life, and the one after that the second happiest. I was 33 at the time, and had 3 more years to go albeit with hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I clung to that prophesy as my life slipped into an ever speedier cycle of all-the-things-to-do. I developed a bit of PTSD towards mail and phone calls, cringing when the phone would ring and leaving unopened mail, knowing that some crappy, onerous, stressful task would be required the moment it’s opened. I’m not saying I lost my sense of humor entirely, but it definitely frayed and became more caustic than usual. At the same time, small non-essential problems became very insignificant. At one point I remember thinking, ‘is anyone going to die because of x,y,z? No? Then it’s not even on my radar.’  And I helped myself as much as possible. I recruited my mom to help with grandmothers care as much as she could. I divorced my brother to eliminate a ten year source of stress, I maintained a weekly dinner or drinks date with my friends as a sanity straw.  And to their credit they heard me out over and over.  Improbably and unbelievably I fell in love. And those things sustained me in a very real and deep way when everything felt like it was crumbling over and over and over again like a fragile house of cards in a hurricane.

I learned to cope by breathing through pain, mindfulness, humor and through reflecting on life’s inherent absurdity, and brevity and fragility.  Now that school is behind me, I am still in recovery mentally and emotionally. And still dealing with remnants of that period of life – estate business still rears its ugly head periodically, school is done but getting the designation is still pending, the old house occupied by the ex is up for sale and not selling, and the deep economic recession that is gutting Calgary is still here. My brother still struggles to find his way in life, and my mother is entering her second year of unemployment. I am watching close friends lose jobs, and not be able to find anything remotely suitable. I am watching this bustling city become sheltered and reserved, with critics saying there will be no recovery swift or otherwise.  America’s new president is certainly a surprise. And yet life is still beautiful, there is still love and all of us on this journey together. And it is a wonder to behold.



On kitty litter


Some time ago I was offered a free box of World’s Best Cat Litter in return for a review on the blog, and I kind of jumped at the chance with unseemly haste.  Anything that promises to make the litter chore easier or better is too good of an opportunity to pass up.  So I promptly agreed, and shortly after received a small box of corn litter to try out.


Full disclosure – I don’t do cat litter. I used to, and found the job disgusting, and spent a fortune on a Litter Robot which is God’s answer to cat litter management.  It worked phenomenally well, I loved it, and that would have been the happy ending, except for James broke it one day.  And I said,  since you broke it, you feel free to clean cat litter, cause you see I had a ROBOT that did it, so feel free to either replace it, or manage the cat litter single handedly.  So he’s been doing the cat litter solo since then. So all World’s Best Cat Litter observations are his.


My impressions were – this ain’t gonna be enough litter, yo. We have two giant litter boxes for four cats, which we spot clean every day or two, and fully empty once a week. This system works pretty good, although not nearly as good as my Litter Robot. So we set up a small litter box full of World’s Best to see how it would play out in the arena.  All the boxes were fully clean and ready to go in a nod to scientific consistency.


My cats LOVE it when their litter box is cleaned, so they were pretty much a ready audience when we (James) were done with the litter set up. They are also creatures of habit, so first they were fascinated with their old clean boxes. Other than a perfunctory sniff not one chose World’s Best until the regular boxes were soiled. But you know what? Cats are like kids and old people – rather change averse.  So that means nothing.  The litter comes out of the box smelling freshly grassy with a faint corn scent and pours very nicely compared to clay, by the way.


So three out of four cats proceeded to use WBCL and it was pretty darn good. There is far less dust raised when pouring the litter, scooping, or raking maniacally by cats. It clumps completely and is really far superior to clay at holding urine smells at bay. All the cats continued to use it as their regular boxes got smellier, so they can definitely tell the difference.  The stuff can be flushed too which we didn’t test cause we (James) were already cleaning clay, but I’m sure it’s safe.  Not so much good at keeping poop smells at bay, but really, nothing is. Except the Litter Robot.  Because we had three cats using it, we went through it pretty quickly despite the fact that we dumped out less litter clumps per sweep.


Verdict – it would be immensely worth trying for a one or two cat household. Because we have SO many cats we would need a pallet of this stuff. And of course it’s more expensive than clay. Because you use less overall litter, it should last far longer than clay, but in our case it still went pretty quickly.  Odor control is excellent at the start of the box, and diminishes with time, as does clay. Dust is less but it will still track a bit.  You really have to try a bag for longevity to see if you get any cost savings, my guess is probably.


Is it the answer and the holy grail of cat litter management? Not really.  It’s still litter, you still scoop it, it will still smell depending on how heavily it’s used.  If you mixed it with the Litter Robot though, I think you would be as close to Nirvana as cat ownership gets.



Back in the saddle again!


I tried to stay away I really did. But even though this is likely the busiest I’ve ever been in my life, I miss having stuff to say and throw into the ether of the interwebs.

How busy is busy? Crazy crazy busy. This new job that I’ve started is a full time desk that was about four months behind, and I’ve been playing catch up since I started here in February. (In case you’re wondering about my frequent job-hopping and general trustworthiness, I am a contractor while I’m in school and as such I get around, :)) School is also busy, but that’s nothing new, and won’t change anytime soon. I am also doing a side project in school, helping my family with various stuffs, and trying to spend enough time on myself to recharge the batteries.  There is no garden for me this year, nor woodworking, and I have to indulge my creative juices mainly in the kitchen which requires far less of a time commitment for productive results. I’ve baked a lot of bread.

I’ve also been keeping up with the exercise, seeing it as a crutch of sanity, and in fact, am stepping it up for a couple of months just to get leaner for the summer.  And as a function of that I’ve just bought and fallen in love with a special foam roller, called the rumble roller.  I’ve long had a foam roller, which is great for treating muscle aches and pains, especially if you’re prone to muscle tightness, knots, and general stiffness. Well this is like a foam roller on crack, with bulging bumps that look a bit medieval, that dig deep into the muscle tissue and do great things.



I spent about an hour with it the first night I got it, and holy cow, it’s the greatest self treatment tool I’ve ever used. Painful, but excellent. My calves have not been so loose since I was a kid, my right forearm which had a suspicious tingle I thought was the start of carpal tunnel is gone, my quads are looser, and so on. I use it on traps, neck, lats, and even arms which are surprisingly sore. After using it, my deadlift went up by 20 lbs, just like that, which I attribute to looser muscles ‘firing’ properly for the first time. So if you’re prone to muscle tightness and enjoy sports massage, this may be the answer. I brought it to the gym when I bought it, and it was immediately popular with all the trainers, they practically fought over it while I worked out.

Of course, if you don’t enjoy deep tissue massage, or find hard massage painful, then this is likely not for you. It really is a tool for athletes, so if you need it, you likely know.

Mom and I went to Austin for a long weekend, and had a blast. One of the neatest things we did there was take a tour of the city on the Segway scooters. I have never seen such childlike excitement and happiness on my mom’s face. Never. She took to it despite her fear and hesistation, and had a blast. She still talks about it, and wants to buy one.  I’ll post some pictures soon, it was really amazing. If there is a Segway tour in your area, run don’t walk there and take one.

All the cats are great – Tweak needed and got about 1200.00 worth of dental surgery, and the respiratory infection she nursed for like six months magically disappeared.  Pumpkin still loves Cheney, follows him around like a lovestruck puppy, and sits on his head at naptime. Cheney is… still special. Alfie is good buds with everyone and loves her new scratch post. All in all it’s a pretty happy household.



And on that note, I will come back and write about something else soon. I miss you all!