May 29, 2017: Our house has been an empty place since the loss of our cat Eevee back in November. You don't truly understand the way a beloved pet worms its way into your heart until you've lost one, and then the reminders are there every day: when you see his favorite toy and remember how he used to play with it when you tossed it to him, or when you stumble across an old photo of when he was a kitten. Fifteen years in the life of a cat seems an eternity, but to a human it is just a moment in time, one brief chapter in the book of life, then you move on to whatever comes next.
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Eevee's departure left a tremendous void to fill, and exactly when and how to fill it had been a bone of contention in our family for months. Roni and Ben wanted a replacement right away. Ben, in fact, had already been talking about his next cat even as Eevee was still with us, his declining health and approaching end quite evident. Roni was content to wait a few weeks, although as Christmas neared she was dropping hints that a kitten in her stocking wouldn't be a bad gift from Santa. Glenn, meanwhile, argued in favor of waiting until spring and the arrival of "kitten season" to find a new cat… or cats. Yes, we had done the double when we picked up Katy and Rio nearly seven years ago, but that experience had taught us both the joys and pain of trying to raise two kittens at once, and we weren't sure we wanted to try that experiment again.
The other concern was that Eevee had died of pancreatitis and had been in and out of veterinary care for a few months. A lot was unknown about his condition and what else might have contributed to his demise, what possible contagions he may have left behind. Introducing a new kitten to our home too soon might be a bad choice, and remembering Rio's death from FIP at 18 months old made us hesitant to act too quickly. We explained this to Ben, who was less easily convinced of our reasons.
Ben was also not convinced that the next cat shouldn't be his. Eevee had always been his faithful companion, from the time they were introduced when Ben was seven and Eevee was just a few weeks old. They bonded quickly, and Eevee made his place in Ben's room, for better or worse. His loss affected Ben most of any of us, so Ben felt it only fair that he should have the right to choose the next cat and name it. But care for it? Well, that became the true source of the debate. Who buys the food? Who changes the litter box? Who pays for the vet bills when something goes wrong? Grudgingly, Ben tried to see it our way, even as we turned him down when he had an offer to adopt a pair of older kittens through someone at his work. Roni had an idea about what she wanted in a cat, and so we decided to simply play things by ear until the time felt right.
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T TURNED OUTthat the "right" time was April 30. That was the Sunday that we set out for Antioch on an alleged search for gardening implements and a birthday gift for Ben, who was on the verge of his 23rd birthday two days later. It was no surprise that Roni wanted to stop at PetSmart first, just to peek at the adoptable animals that are there every week through the local rescue groups. But this was dog day at PetSmart, as we discovered once we were inside. If it was kittens we wanted, we'd need to cross the parking lot to Pet Food Express. So around the corner we drove and soon found ourselves walking into the store, anticipating the cages full of cats and kittens we were told would be there. Indeed there were cages, but they were all empty save for one.
In that cage were two orange male kittens, and the volunteer from the HALO rescue group was all too happy to take them out and let us hold them. They were all that remained from a litter of five, she told us, and she wanted to see them adopted together. That requirement was firm, as she had already turned down several others who had been willing to take home one or the other. But even with a $25 discount for the pair of them, $175 for two kittens is no small commitment, even if they have already been microchipped and neutered. Twice the kittens means twice the cats when they are older, and twice the expense of caring for them. Besides, what would our existing cat Katy think about a pair of kittens invading her domain after she had been the queen of the house for the past half a year?
At least we got no arguments from Ben. Roni texted a photo of the kittens to him while he was at work, and he shot back a reply to let us know he had dibs on one of them. All of this before we had even agreed to take them home — a decision Glenn was still on the fence about. One or two? The question had nagged at us for months, and now it was time to make a choice. Did we jump at these two because they were there, or did we shop around some more until we found one we could all agree on? The HALO lady was giving us the hard sell about how wonderful it is to have two kittens to entertain each other, how they will mostly ignore the older cat and keep to themselves, freeing us from having to provide constant companionship as single kittens tend to demand.
And then it happened. A customer walked into the store with a large dog and came close to the cage where the two kittens had been returned and were now cuddled up next to each other. The dog, not seeing them, barked a few times, and then the kittens did something unexpected. The smaller tabby, named Punkin, straddled his brother Harry, bit him on the scruff of the neck, and quickly forced him down to the floor of the cage. It was a protective move that won our attention and admiration. The HALO lady noted that they had been fostered in a home without dogs.
"Well, what do you think?" Roni asked.
"It's up to you," Glenn said, knowing the decision had already been made. And so it was that we became the proud adoptive parents of two rambunctious orange kitties.
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ERHAPS RAMBUNCTIOUS IS an understatement. These two little hellions are powered by an invisible and undiminishing well of energy that regenerates the moment they awake until the all-too-brief moments when they sleep. The moment we opened their carrier box when we brought them into the house, they were off exploring the living room and anyplace else that hadn't otherwise been closed off. We shut Katy in our bedroom for the first couple of days, knowing that she would need time to adjust to their presence and have some privacy in her own domain, free from their youthful antics.
Those antics most of the time involved chasing and sparring with each other, furious head-grabbing-and-legs-kicking fests that made us wonder how on earth the HALO volunteers thought these two couldn't be separated. But at night they slowly settled down and became almost cuddly with us. Roni had desperately wanted a lap cat, and in Harry we saw the makings of one. The HALO ladies told us he was the bold adventurer, but we could also see that he appreciated his human companionship, choosing on his own to be with one or the other of us. His brother, Punkin, seemed more the aggressive protector. Never far from the other, we assumed he must have been the runt of the litter by the way he wasn't shy about going after the food dish the moment we filled it, perhaps making up for lost time now that he was away from the rest of his siblings. We were still learning to tell the two apart, but his constant purring always alerted us whenever he was nearby. We warmed to them quickly, as did Ben when he came home from work that night to discover the two rambling about the living room. Now all they needed was real names.
It's a tough chore, naming a cat. You need a name that reflects its personality and appearance. With kittens, you also need to imagine what they will be like full grown. The name has to fit at eight years as well as when you gave it to them at eight weeks. And with two kittens, the challenge doubles because you want names that complement each other in some way. Holy and Terror came to mind after watching them race through the house for a few hours. Harry — the explorer's given name — wasn't our first choice, but we considered briefly naming the pair of them after Harry and William, Britain's two young princes. We also toyed with the idea of naming them after Greek or Roman gods. Ben, naturally, wanted to name them after anime or superhero characters. Thor and Loki from the Marvel Comics series were floated as a possibility. But nothing seemed to fit that we could all agree on.
Still, we had promised Ben that he could name one of the kittens, so when he came up with Phoenix after the character Phoenix Wright from the "Ace Attorney" cartoons, we considered the possibilities. Phoenix also is the mythical firebird that rises from its own ashes, and seeing how we'd brought this pair into our home to replace Eevee, whose cremains still sit in a box on a shelf in Ben's bedroom, we found the name somehow appropriate. So the darker orange kitten formerly known as Harry, with his swirl of white and orange stripes that appear like flames on his side, was redubbed Phoenix.
Naming his brother was more challenging, because we still wanted something we could all agree on. We spent a couple of days mulling the possibilities, including naming the other one Houston or Vegas, trying to keep in the theme of Southwestern desert cities. We toyed with Apollo. Naw. We continued to work on the dilemma.
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EANWHILE, BEN'S BIRTHDAY quickly arrived and we were only semi prepared. Because we had brought home the kittens on Sunday before getting to the store for presents, we were preoccupied with getting them acclimated. Tuesday rolled around and Ben was off at work in the morning before he would be home to enjoy the rest of his birthday, so we had a few hours to run those earlier aborted errands.
We first went to Streets of Brentwood where we had lunch at CreAsian before stopping by Hot Topic to pick up some "Rick and Morty" gear for Ben. He is a big fan of the TV show, so a T-shirt and some collectible figures were definitely in order. Then we eventually made our way over to Best Buy, trying to figure out what to get for him besides video games, most of which he already has of those he wants. He had some other big-ticket items on his list that we were loathe to buy, if only because we figured he could get them himself if he really wanted them, but we were open to all possibilities.
One of those items was a new smartphone to replace his Samsung Galaxy S5, which we had bought for his birthday on contract two years ago as a prior model special and was now losing its battery life. We found that we could pick up the Galaxy S8 for just a few bucks more per month on our AT&T bill, so Roni worked out a plan for us to pay for the setup and first year of service if Ben would agree to pick up the payments for the remainder of the contract. A win for both of us, as he would get his new phone while we would only pay for half of its $800 cost. We needed to ask Ben if he wanted to do that, so Roni called him while he was out shopping with his friend Aaron and told them to swing by Best Buy.
The guys showed up a few minutes later, and Roni led them over to the cell phone department. Aaron, who used to work at Best Buy, gave a hearty endorsement of the new phone, and Ben was happy with the plan as his mom had presented it to him. The decision to swap phones was made, and so we commenced the tortuous process of activating the new device and transferring data from the old one. Little did we know that we were getting into the phone activation from hell. Nearly two hours did it take, making the process feel similar to that of purchasing a new car as the clerk went over the options and made us sign documents and enter pin numbers and connect cables to migrate the data from Ben's old phone to the new one. And then when the transfer was allegedly complete, Ben and Aaron quickly realized that not all the data had migrated properly. It took Aaron's expertise and another half hour at the counter to resolve the problem. Ben sold back his old phone for a $50 gift card, and we picked up a $100 gift card for the activation, so at least there was something in it for everyone.
Oh yeah, and there was lots of idle time while we waited to sift through cat names. We already had Phoenix, and by now Ben was putting the pressure on us to come up with its companion name so we could reveal the dynamic duo to the world. Failing to find a name that instantly clicked, Glenn turned to the internet and tried for alliteration... Felix. Pharaoh. Phillip. Phoebus... He was running out of options in the "ph-" list of baby names. And then he came to the last one on the list: Phyre — a variant of Fire, which continued the fiery theme we'd selected for his brother. The meaning behind the name is "one who burns brightly," and clearly our little Punkin was a bright spark, constantly purring and a tireless bundle of energy. And so it was decided there in the cell phone department at Best Buy: Phoenix and Phyre (or Fee and Fi for nicknames.)
* * * * *
EE-FI-FO-FUM. Our two little ones now had appropriate names as they thundered through our home on mighty paws of giant chaos. The path between the kitchen and the living room became a race track, and they were geared up for the Indy 500 as they sped around in circles, chasing one another. They'd climb the screens in the patio doors, tumble about beneath chairs and claw their way over them, and as soon as we let them in our room they started playing in the tub in our master bathroom, which we mostly use these days to store bathroom towels and toilet paper.
We had forgotten how active kittens can be, especially at night, and hadn't made our house kitten-proof. The first three days we had them they pretty much got free rein of the living room, a tiny whirlwind of destruction. They drove Glenn batty as he tried to work late at night at his computer, and we'd hear them crashing and thrashing about in the wee hours while we tried to sleep. Every morning we'd awake to papers strewn across the living room, objects knocked over or worse. At last, we found some old modular wire mesh panels in the garage we'd used in Ben's room years ago for shelving, and Glenn turned them into a roomy cage that we started putting the kittens inside of each night at their bedtime. They took to the new routine well, and peace was restored in our house at night.
As for Katy, she didn't know initially what to make of them, obviously forgetting that she had been no different at that age, and reacted with predictable disdain. She hissed at first, then sulked in her room for a few days. After a week, she was gradually warming to them, and occasionally we would catch her giving them baths in almost loving fashion. Almost. Those moments often ended with a swat from her paw, but the kittens seemed undeterred in their desire to make friends with their new step-sister.
It didn't take long before they were helping themselves to her food dish, and her litter box. We were very happy when doing the adoption that the HALO lady said they were already litter box trained. We were even happier that their box was so neat and tidy the first week. We used clumping litter that we'd scoop once or twice a day and the box hardly seemed messy or damp at all, which just amazed us for having two kittens using it. Then one evening Roni was in the bedroom and kept smelling cat pee. Uh oh. It didn't take long to find the source. All the time they had been playing in our bathtub — well, we thought they had been playing — it turned out they were using it for a litter box. It's sort of easy to understand, when after all it sort of resembles their small box, only larger and without the litter. It had some plastic bags in it that probably seemed similar, so… Who are we to question how a young cat's brain works? Anyhow, we cleaned the tub, filled the bottom with a shallow layer of water to deter future visits, and haven't any problems since.
It's been nearly a month since Phoenix and Phyre came into our home, and already we can see them growing before our eyes. It is hard to imagine that by Christmas they'll be nearly full-grown cats. (Lord help our tree and decorations!) But we think they'll be good ones.
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UCH OF MAY has revolved around our new kittens, but we have also found time for some other activities. Believe it or not, we are finally getting back around to the yard work that has been much delayed since last fall. Our first priority is to complete the expansion of our driveway, and to that end Glenn has slowly been making his way through the last of the plum tree roots blocking the path to progress. The roots have been cleared away and the tree (so far) appears to be still alive. The next step was to reroute the sprinkler system so that it can still be used to water the new landscaping we plan to install in the next phase of the project — assuming we get there soon. Glenn tapped into the existing line and added a new pipe beneath where the driveway pavers will go. This extension includes a faucet that will be able to feed our planned dry creek bed — for the times when we don't want it to be dry. That idea is very much in flux, and if it happens the way we envision it there will be a recirculating pump near the end of the driveway that will send water back to the top of the creek bed so that we can have a little stream and waterfall. Installing the pump will require more wiring and conduit before the driveway pavers are installed, so it may be more than we want to tackle. That is, if we ever want to finish the paver project.
The other work we've done outside, or at least begun to, is clearing out the massive tangle of weeds deposited here by our wet winter. It's a long-term project for sure, and probably won't be complete until the end of summer, as we have to find space in our lone green waste bin that only gets picked up by the trash company every other week. We could easily fill that bin another dozen times with what we currently have, and that's not counting the new weeds that will soon grow to replace those we are pulling now. Roni doesn't want to wait until the weeding is finished to spruce up the yard, so a couple of weeks ago we went to Home Depot and picked up some garlic and rosemary plants to fill in around Summer's Garden. Roni did the entire project herself, including pulling the weeds, installing the plants, and then placing decorative rock throughout the circle to prevent future weed growth. Now we just need to get our outdoor electricity back on so we can get the fountain going again.
The other useful thing we picked up from Home Depot was a leaf blower. We didn't realize what we were missing by not having one, as all these years we had talked about it and always put it off as a nice-to-have-but-not-essential tool. Wrong. Ever since we installed the pavers and rock in our front planter last fall, we wondered how to remove the pine needles that were accumulating there. The blower, which also includes a vacuum attachment, helps with that. Generating variable wind speeds of close to 250 mph, the blower also made short work of all the sand and wisteria debris that had been building up on our back patios. We barely turned it above its lowest setting and were able to get the sand drifts away from our foundation. Spiderwebs on the front porch? Blown away. Trimmings from shrubs? Gonzo. Not bad for less than a $75 investment.
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ONI IS ALWAYS on the lookout for ways to improve our health, so this month we embarked on a sugar-free diet. The goal was to go three weeks without eating foods that have added sugar, which we quickly found is nearly impossible. Except for fresh vegetables and water, just about anything you pick up from the grocery store has some form of sugar added. That includes so-called "sugar-free" foods that substitute a dozen or more unpronounceable artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols and "cane" sugars. The idea with the diet is to detox your body of its sugar cravings, which can take anywhere from three to six weeks.
Of course we've had to give up our cakes, ice creams, cookies and puddings that we occasionally enjoy, but the hardest thing has been cutting out breads and pasta. Glenn always takes a sandwich to work for dinner, so we had to find a substitute for that. Roni started packing him lunches of cheese sticks, carrots, celery and meat slices. Sort of like a sandwich but without the bread. There have been more salads on our table at home, too. We've substituted Greek yogurt for the ranch dressing we used to buy, and Roni has found creative ways to prepare sweet potatoes as a main course, along with lots of fish, beef and chicken.
Fruit contains natural sugars, but we're encouraged to eat more of it. Fortunately we are coming into harvest season, so we've been buying lots of strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, watermelon, pineapple, bananas and cantaloupe. We've also been enjoying cherries while we can find them. The cherry harvest season is all too brief, but because of all the rains we've had a good crop this spring. Roni wrote a story for the newspaper about the start of the U-pick season in Brentwood, so we visited Bloomfield Cherries one Thursday afternoon on their first day of business. The place was already hopping with customers. We did some picking for ourselves after Roni did her interview, and we managed to buy about 5 pounds of cherries for the ridiculously low price of $3.50 per pound; the grocery store wanted $7 a pound, and theirs weren't half as sweet. Sadly, we had our haul consumed within a few days.
We've about reached the end of our three weeks and have learned a few things. First, this is a very expensive diet. Fresh veggies and fruits are always more costly than processed foods, even if they are healthier. Second, it is very difficult to break habits in such a short time that have been ingrained over the course of 50-plus years. We doubt that we will become permanent converts to a sugar-free lifestyle, although we certainly could do well to have less sugar in our diet. Third, trying to do something that 99 percent of the rest of the world isn't doing makes you by definition a rebel. The temptation and pressure to break your diet is all around you, every second of the day. It's good to have someone doing it with you to support your effort. Courage.
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NOTHER KEY TO better health is exercise, something we've been less successful at recently. Poor weather served to keep us indoors during the winter months, and now that the temperatures have suddenly spiked into the 80s and 90s, as they do in May, we are less inclined to go for long walks in the heat or do yard work.
Nonetheless, Glenn did get out for a hike during a May 13 get-together with his brother Sean. They went to Round Valley Regional Preserve near Brentwood and took a 4.7-mile walk on the Hardy Canyon and Miwok trails through stands of oak trees and across windblown plains. The hike was strenuous for those unaccustomed to the elevation gain or who are simply out of shape. In any event, Glenn was sore for a few days afterward. No telling when his next hike will be.