Thursday, January 30, 2014

Rest In Peace Sputnik VonWhiskars

On Tuesday I had to make the very hard decision to have my beloved cat Sputnik put to sleep.

Sputty (which, BTW is pronounced like "Puddy" as in "I tought I taw a Puddy Tat!") was diagnosed with a bladder tumor in December of 2012 and wasn't expected to make it more than a few weeks, but his indomitable little spirit carried him through for more than a year.

But it finally became apparent that the disease had gotten the better of him, and that any further attempts to prolong his life would only be prolonging his suffering, so I made the very difficult decision to let him go.

Sputnik was the most amazing little cat that I've ever known. I wish you all could have known him - though, truth be told he was pretty afraid of most people. Still, he was a very special little guy.

In the months before he officially adopted me, when he was still a wily alley cat, I watched him do some pretty amazing things.

The very first day I laid eyes on him, I saw him back away from a dish full of food so that a hungrier, more frightened cat could eat. I'd never seen a cat display such a selfless attitude.

He obviously hadn't had a lot of human contact, so it took weeks for him to let me touch him, but when I finally got brave enough to pick him up and put him in my lap he sat there purring for over an hour, and the only time he ever hissed or growled at me was because he didn't want me to put him down.

We soon developed a routine where he'd come by every night like clockwork for cuddles, playing and food - and that's how he got his name, because I had just seen the film "October Sky" where the main character watches the satellite Sputnik making it's nightly rounds.

I soon discovered that another lady in the neighborhood had been feeding him off and on for the past 3 years - although she'd never gotten close enough to touch him - and she called him Whiskars, hence the name Sputnik VonWhiskars was born.

I was getting pretty attached to him by this point, still, I had a pretty complicated kitty situation with two female cats who didn't get along well, and I was unsure about bringing another cat into the mix.

But Sputty was pretty persuasive. It got to the point where I had a hard time going back inside after feeding him because he would leave the food dish to run after me, and then would sit crying at the door wanting to come in. What a little heart breaker!

This is actually an indoor screen set up to keep Mow and Daisy separate - but that was Sputty's "Let Me In" look

One day my cat Daisy was pressed up against the glass of the basement window - which seemed odd and a little concerning to me, so I went to investigate, and there was Sputty, pressed up against the other side of the glass purring.

A few weeks later when my other cat Mow was recovering from surgery, Sputty sat outside the screen a few feet from her purring loudly to comfort her for 3 hours. And that was the clincher - from that point on, Sputty became a pampered indoor kitty.

Daisy was 16 pounds of unbridled energy, and Mow was only 8 pounds & not in the best of health, so Sputty became Mow's protector. When Daisy would start to pick on Mow he'd tackle her, bite her on the scruff of the neck and force her to back off.

Sputty with Mow a few days before she left us

But he loved Daisy too, and spent many hours cuddling with her and keeping her company when she had to be kept separated from the elderly and ailing Mow.

Sputty keeping Daisy company

After the girls left us, Sputty was an only cat for a number of years, but he just continued to amaze me with the things he'd do.

Head Cat In Charge
He had a basket for all of his toys, and when he wanted to play he'd dig through the basket and take out the toy that he wanted. But when he was done playing, he'd actually put the toy back in the basket. I couldn't believe it. Picking up after himself is certainly not a skill he inherited from me!

Sputty and his toy basket

So one year I decided to hand out small toys to trick-or-treaters in lieu of candy - an idea that went over like a fart in church with the kids BTW. I was concerned about getting something appropriate for the really young ones, so I got a dozen miniature teddy bears for the under 3 crowd.

I had everything set up in a box by the door on Halloween, but for some reason I only counted 9 teddy bears. Then I looked over and discovered that Sputty had "liberated" 3 of the bears and put them in his toy basket. Needless to say, I let him keep them.

Sputty on Halloween

One day I brought home some new lamps for the bedroom that were touch activated - you just touched the base of the lamp to turn them off and on. Within a few months, I was waking up in the middle of the night with the lights on.

At first I thought the lamps were malfunctioning, but soon realized that Sputty had figured out how to operate them. He'd sit there for hours delightedly turning the lights off and on. It was very cute, but not terribly conducive to sleep, so poor Sputty lost his favorite lamp toys.

Sputty looking up at his lamp toy

Sputty's reign as an only cat came to an abrupt end one summer night when he alerted me that something was amiss on the back deck. At first I figured it was just a passing stray or maybe a raccoon in the yard and ignored it, but Sputty was pretty insistent, so I went outside to check it out and discovered 2 tiny kittens on the back deck.

Smoky and Jasper the night they arrived

They had apparently been sealed into a cardboard box and left in the alley to die. They had managed to claw their way out of the box and for some reason they headed for my deck where Sputnik was looking out the screen door. I guess they knew he would take care of them.

Sputty with his Kittens
I quickly whisked them inside and soon Sputty had 2 little brothers to care for. And make no mistake, as far as he was concerned those were HIS kittens. As Smoky and Jasper grew, Sputty was their mentor and protector.

Teaching Jasper the fine art of bug watching
If he heard a threatening noise outside, he would grab them and pull them away from the window or door and stand guard until the threat had passed.

Ever-Protective Sputty with Smoky

Big Brother Sputty letting Jasper share his house

And then one day Smoky and Jasper found a live mouse. They were quite literally beside themselves with excitement, and I was in full-on "eek-a-mouse" freak-out mode.

But Sputty just sauntered over and was like, "Chill guys, I got this." In about 2 seconds flat, with seemingly no effort at all, he had the thing caught. But he didn't hurt it. He just held it in his mouth while I went and got a box, and then spit it out into the box so I could take it outside to free it.

Sputty with his boys

I could go on for days telling stories of my Sputter-Cat, but suffice it to say, he was one special little fellow and a one-of-a-kind character.

When he got sick, there were some people in my life who didn't quite understand why I would put everything on hold to provide round the clock hospice care for a cat.

All I can say is that Sputty wasn't just a cat. He was my best friend, my rain maker, my little bodhisattva (in Buddhist tradition a bodhisattva is a being who has attained enlightenment, but instead of entering Nirvana, chooses to stay and help others.) Sputty always took care of everyone around him, so the least I could do was to return the favor. And I am so grateful for the "bonus year" that I got to spend with him.

Enjoying a warm day during the winter of his "bonus year"

I want to say a special thanks for all of wonderful and supportive comments that y'all have left for me over the past year. Knowing that there were a lot of loving people out there who understood, and who didn't think I was just nuts for wanting to take care of my little friend made the whole situation much easier to bear.

I am left with such a mix of emotions... from the deepest of sadness and grief at losing him, to the utter relief of knowing that his long struggle is over. I have the definite feeling that a chapter in my life has closed, and part of me feels adrift in an ocean of empty time.

I'm sure a new chapter will open soon, but I will never, ever forget my beautiful, sweet Sputty-Cat, and I will always be grateful for the joy and light that he brought into my life. He gave so much more than he took.

Rest in peace my beautiful boy

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How I Lost 40 Pounds and Kept (most of) it Off for 20 Years

Well folks, 'tis the season for weight loss mania. People all over the place are counting calories, vowing to work out every day, eyeing their skinny jeans and generally making unreasonable goals and promises.

So... as someone who has experienced success in this department, I figured maybe y'all might like to know how I've done it. I do need to point out here that I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I'm not a doctor or nutritionist - this is just what has worked for me, so please remember to take everything I say with a grain of salt.

First of all... the numbers. I'm 5 feet 8 inches tall. At my peak I tipped the scales at about 175 pounds and wore a size 16, or thereabouts. At my skinniest I got down to 120 pounds and a size 2, but ultimately decided that weight was a bit too skinny for me, and not the healthiest.

These days my weight ranges from about 132-142 (I always wish those would be nice round numbers like 130-140, but they just refuse to be). I usually wear a size 6, but I've got stuff in my closet that includes sizes 4-8 - it all varies depending on how much I'm exercising, sleeping, and stressing, how good I'm being about sticking to my eating principles, and of course the cut of the clothing (why are some size 4's bigger than some size 8's?)

So here's my basic approach to this stuff.

First, and most importantly, you have to completely forget the idea of "dieting" as most of us understand it. This is not some sort of temporary thing where you follow a bunch of crazy rules for a short period of time and then go back to "normal".

You have to think of this as creating a new way of eating and moving that is sustainable over the long haul. Trust me, if you return to your old behaviors, you'll return to your old body too.

OK - so the cliff notes version of my system can be boiled down to two words: Vegetables and Exercise! Basically, in a nutshell, my success is due to increasing the amount of those two things in my life.

Of course, it's not that simple, so here's an outline of my basic principles.

  • Three Meals a Day. I have the best luck when I eat 3 square meals every day with  no snacks. I know some folks say you should eat 4-5 small meals per day but this has always been a disaster for me because it leaves me feeling hungry ALL. THE. TIME. I do best when I keep it simple an stick to breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Carbohydrates are for Energy. I vary the amount I consume considerably depending on how much exercise I'm getting. Unless I'm gonna be out cycling for 2-4 hours that day, I try to keep my consumption down to about 2 small servings per day.
  • Sweets are Treats. I used to think that it was OK to have sugar regularly if I ate it in moderation. But for me, this is a recipe for disaster because A) I have no willpower... once I start I can't stop. And B) it just wreaks havoc with my blood sugar and throws me into a cycle of exhaustion and hunger. So while I don't completely abstain from them, I only have them once in a while. For me that means once every few months. To get my day to day sweet fix I eat fruit - about 3-4 servings per day.
  • Beware the Simple Carb. Things like white flour, white rice and even alcohol are converted to sugar almost the instant they hit your system, so they can end up having the same effect as eating a pile of candy. I limit this sort of thing to my once a week movie night with CatMan. Usually this means either some white rice with Chinese food or pasta in lasagna, popcorn and a glass or two of wine.
  • Protein is Power. I make sure that I've got a nice serving of protein at every meal because it makes me feel satisfied and keeps my blood sugar stable. For me that means one of the following: 2 eggs, one small piece of chicken, or one small piece of fish. On rare occasions I'll have a small serving of beef or maybe some legumes, but things like tofu, soy and fermented veggie proteins give me migraines so I try to avoid them. 
  • Veggies are your Friend. I try to build all of my meals around a big hefty serving of veggies. They're filling, low in calories, low in carbohydrates and loaded with nutrients. I think I heard somewhere that you should try to "eat like a gorilla" so I enjoy hefty portions of greens, salads, roasted veggies, stir-fry's and vegetable casseroles.
  • Move to Live. Somehow in the modern world we've managed to separate "exercise" from every day living. Part of my approach is to make movement a part of my day to day existence. This means that I do things like walk or bike to run errands, garden, fix things around the house and just generally try to make sure that I include movement in my day to day life.
  • Sports are Fun. Since I was a little kid I've always enjoyed sports. I'm a huge sports fan and unashamed of it. During my fat years I used to feel like I needed to "work out" all the time and it felt like a big chore. But then I re-discovered sports and remembered how much fun it was. These days it's mostly cycling, but at other points I've been obsessed with hiking, skiing, swimming, softball and yoga. (OK - yoga isn't really a "sport" but you know what I mean.) If you can find something that you love doing for the pure joy of it, it stops feeling like work.
  • Muscles, Muscles, Muscles. The one place where I do a bit of traditional "working out" is with strength training, but it's not what you might think. I do what's called "slow weight lifting". This just means that I keep some hand & ankle weights along with a yoga mat by the television and try to turn some of my "Netflixing" time into "NetFLEXing" time. I find that having a bit more muscle mass really helps me to maintain my weight, plus it just makes everyday stuff easier because it's easier to lift things etc.
  • Sleep is Sweet. I read a completely non-scientific study once where they took a group of stressed out women and had them commit to getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night. They all lost about 20 pounds effortlessly. I think there are studies that show that when you don't get enough sleep your body actually metabolizes food differently, and you go almost into a pre-diabetic state. I know from my own experience that when I'm sleeping well it's much easier to maintain my weight.
  • Drink More. Water, that is. They say you should drink 8 glasses of water per day, and while I don't always get there, I try. Staying well hydrated gives me more energy and satisfies my need to "have something" between meals. 
  • Be Happy! I know it sounds crazy, and that it's sometimes easier said than done, but keeping my stress levels down and just generally giving myself a break makes it soooo much easier to maintain my weight. I think there's actually science to back this up - stress releases cortisol which is a steroid hormone that causes you to gain weight. Anyhow, allowing myself to goof off when I feel like it and not sweating the small stuff is a big part of my system.

So there you have it! I'm not sure if it will work for anyone else, but that's the plan I used to lose weight and I really have kept it off for 20 years now. 

Sorry this post was so long, but believe it or not, this was the condensed version! Anyhow, I'd love to hear what has and hasn't worked for you!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Reefer Madness in the Mile High City

Yup folks, it really happened. Marijuana is now legal in the great state of Colorado. Let the madness begin!!!

And let me tell you, things are really starting to come apart at the seams.  Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes... The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!

Ummm... actually, other than the non-stop media coverage of a bunch of happy stoners standing in line waiting to buy dope, pretty much nothing has changed.

Well, nothing has changed, and everything has changed. It's sort of amazing to tell the truth. It's like a societal truth had come out from the darkness and people are suddenly able to talk about marijuana without whispering or giggling, and there just seems to be a sense of relief throughout the city.

My personal opinion on this is that it's a massive step in the right direction, and gives me hope that our government will some day come to its senses and stop this ridiculous "war on drugs."

I know that this topic makes some people uncomfortable, and that my views might be controversial, but I truly believe that the prohibition of intoxicating substances does infinitely more harm than it does good, and I guess I have some pretty personal reasons for believing it.

I may have mentioned my cousin here and there in conversation. The thing is... she isn't really my cousin - that's just the most convenient word I have to describe our relationship. In reality she is my dad and step-mom's goddaughter.

Now why on earth, you might ask, do two vehemently atheist ex-Catholics have a goddaughter?

Well, here's the story.

My step mother is an immigrant from Germany, and as such, she tends to gravitate to other immigrants. In the 1970's her best friend was a woman from Czechoslovakia who had escaped from the communist country with her husband. My step-mom and her friend were both physicians working at a clinic in a rather rough part of town.

One night her friend was working late, and as she was locking up the building she was approached by a man who wanted drugs. What happened next is a bit unclear, but suffice it to say her friend was shot. She was also 8 months pregnant. They were able to save the baby, but not her friend.

Fearing that the baby could be sent back to communist Czechoslovakia should something ever happen to him, her friend's husband asked my dad and step-mom if they would agree to take custody of her if he were to die.

They, of course, agreed and had all of the legal papers drawn up. They also became her god parents and my "cousin" and her father became a part of our family, joining us for family vacations, weekend get-togethers and holiday celebrations.

The way I see it, making drugs illegal only makes them more scarce and more valuable than they otherwise would be. It creates currency for organized crime, and turns a social problem into a criminal one.

It also forces users into contact with criminals which leads many of them down a road that they would otherwise not have taken. It pushes addicts underground and makes them much more reluctant to seek help for their problems than they otherwise might be.

I know there will be many people who disagree with me on this one, and I'm certainly not saying that legalizing drugs would be without problems or incidents. I'm sure legalization would increase use, and probable mean that some folks would become addicts who otherwise wouldn't.

But the way I see it, people ought to have the freedom to mess up their own lives if they want to, and it's not like people with addictive tendencies don't already have access to alcohol - one of the most addictive substances around.

But at least if drugs were legal, innocent people would stop getting caught in the crossfire of this crazy war. And my "cousin's" mother, and thousands and thousands of other people like her would still be alive. That's the way I see it anyhow.

What do you think about the legalization of recreational drugs?

Friday, January 3, 2014

How Cooked is Our Goose?

So I've been reading a lot of new dire predictions about climate change on the interwebs. One article sited a study published in Nature and said that a new understanding of how clouds form as the temperature rises predicts that the earth will experience catastrophic climate change (4 degrees C) by 2100. The other focused on loss of sea ice and said that the world might be unlivable as soon as 2050.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of these predictions. I mean, I pretty much think that catastrophic climate change is inevitable given the unwillingness of our collective world governments to tackle the problem in any meaningful way, but... earth unlivable by 2050?!? That's soon enough that I might have a ringside seat. Hmmm.... it sorta makes one stop to think.

But.... rather than waste our breath arguing over whether that's a real possibility or not, let's just say for a moment that the worst prediction is true. Runaway climate change is upon us and within the next 36 years human beings will become an endangered species. The debate is over, even the Koch brothers say it's so.

My question is this: What do you do now?

When I say that, I don't mean it rhetorically, and I don't mean "you" as some expression of collective humanity. What I mean is, if you somehow knew definitively that the worst prediction was on its way to happening, what you personally do?

Would you sell everything you own and move as far north as possible?
One of the articles I read implied that the change will cause a massive die off of plankton, which would cause earth's oxygen levels to plummet. In that case, I don't think latitude would do you much good.

Would you construct a bio-dome, lock yourself in and try to create a sustainable mini-habitat?
It's an interesting idea, but unless you've got a pretty good fence around that thing, it's hard to imagine it and its inhabitants surviving intact when the post-apocalyptic hungry droves start to descend.

Would you make large donations to geo-engineering research?
I've always thought that the whole "science will save us" approach was bargaining with the devil, but if things really were that dire, perhaps it would be worth giving it a shot?

Would you have kids?
This is an interesting question. If you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that a person born today would have a slim chance of making it to age 40, and would do a heckuva lot of suffering to get that far, would you bring them into the world? Sorta makes me glad that I don't have any progeny to worry about.

Or would you just ignore it?
You could just say, "Oh screw it, marijuana is legal in Colorado now, let's go smoke a doobie and forget about it!" Hmmm.... tempting.... Seriously though, there is an argument to be made that if the world is gonna end and there's nothing you can do about it, you may as well enjoy your life now while you can.

I do have a very hard time believing that a system as big as our climate could change on a dime like that. But hey, I studied music and psychology in school, so what do I know? And you have to admit, it is a very interesting question.

For the moment, I made one tiny change and signed up for Denver's municipal compost program. Part of me thinks this is a ridiculous waste of money (it costs about $120/year) since I compost most household organic waste myself. But there are some things like sticks etc that are just too hard to compost without a commercial setup, and maybe my neighbors would like to use the bin as well.

I know it's spitting in the ocean, but it did make me feel a tiny bit better.

So tell me... what would you do?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

And the Circle Turns...

2014 has finally arrived. Whew!

I've gotta say that 2013 was a helluva year and I'm not sorry to see it go. Between 2 sick kitties, CatMan's broken pelvis, Google doing it's best to destroy my business, and my mother's death, I feel a bit like I've been through the ringer.

Of course there were good things too.

My 16 year old kitty Sputnik was given just a few weeks to live last December, and at the moment he's happily scarfing down a bowl of kitty junk food (hey - I figure his days are numbered he can eat whatever he wants.)

He's lost some weight and has to take a bunch of medication - but he's still hangin' in there and still enjoying his life, so all in all, I think I have to call that one a win.

Smoky the young'en (he's only 4 years old) was rushed to the kitty ER this summer because he was swollen up like a sweet potato. Turned out his blood protein levels were dangerously low. They were pretty sure he had lymphoma and were hopeful that with proper treatment he might live a year.

Since then all of his numbers have returned to normal and he's gained several pounds. The vet called it a miraculous recovery. So - gotta call that one a win too.

CatMan was out of commission for about 6 weeks with his fractured pelvis, but he seems to have healed up nicely with no residual problems.

And somehow watching him go through that, and seeing that an accident doesn't have to mean the end of the world did wonders for my sense of physical security on my bike.

And while Google's changes to its image search certainly did make the number of visitors and page views on all of my sites plummet -  the same thing happened to every other image based site on the web.

So now there are many fewer sites competing for Google ad impressions, so the amount of money I make didn't really change that much. I seem to have come out of that one relatively unscathed as well.

In terms of my mother, well - that one is certainly more complicated.

She and I had a very difficult relationship dating way back to my childhood. When I'm able to step back and see her as just another person on the planet (as opposed to seeing her as my mother with all the baggage that entails) I can tell that she was really just an angry & unhappy person who dealt with her problems through addiction and abuse - which isn't terribly surprising since she came from a family full of addiction and abuse.

Given the horrible things she did to her body throughout her lifetime it's sorta remarkable that she lived to be 73 years old.

My brother and I had been preparing ourselves to deal with a long drawn out scenario of institutional living because her abilities to care for herself were dwindling - and since she lived alone and shunned most attempts that people made to befriend her, we also worried that something horrible could happen.

As it turned out she pretty much kept her faculties intact until the end, and then died peacefully in her sleep.

So while I'd be hard pressed to say that I'm glad about her passing, when I think about all the ways it could have gone, I'm grateful that it was an easy death.

It also does provide some sense of closure to a painful chapter in my life.

And lest I forget to mention it, I did finally get my mortgage paid off in 2013 so that has to count as a big win!

I guess when I really stop to look at it - there is much to be grateful for.

Which leads me to one last thought here... since choosing a "word for the upcoming year" seems to be the "thing" these days, I think I'm gonna choose "surrender".

I mean, when I really look at the past year, the worst part about the "negatives" was how hard I fought against them.

But I think 2013 really taught me that so much in life is simply beyond our control. And perhaps I'd be better off just accepting what comes my way and trying to learn whatever the universe is trying to teach me.

So Happy New Year, Y'All!