Grief

It’s been a long time since I posted here, but recent life events have made me want to start writing normally again about my life.

Sunday, February 12, one week before my 32nd birthday, I lost my father suddenly to a heart attack. He was 65. We hadn’t seen it coming.

I know he wasn’t in tip top shape – his doctor had been on him to reduce his sweets intake, which he had been doing for the most part – but we still never suspected something like this would claim his life. Mom pointed out that he’d been complaining of indigestion in the months leading up to it, and I can’t help but wonder if maybe it was something cardiovascular masquerading as stomach issues.

Going back to that day, my best friend and roommate, Lisa, and I had gone to eat lunch at a fast-casual Japanese place we’d never tried before en route to downtown St. Louis to catch a few more Porygon before the Valentine’s event ended. We had gone Pokemon hunting the day before with two of her coworkers and managed to catch quite a few, but wanting to make it to lunch in time with my parents had cut the day short and I found myself lacking about 16 candy that I wanted.

Though the restaurant was a little disappointing, we pulled out with our bellies full. My phone rang – it was my mom, and I answered with a cheerful hello. But there was panic in her voice.

“Katie, something happened to your dad. He collapsed in the garage… The paramedics have been working on him for a while but I don’t know..”

I immediately started to panic myself. Something twisted in the pit of my stomach. I asked her if I should come home, and she said yes, so, since I fortunately had not gotten back on the interstate yet, quickly changed lanes to head back home. It was about 15-20 from my location to my parents’ house, but that day the drive seemed to last hours.

The whole time, I was in tears, mumbling to myself. “Please be ok, please God be ok…” Beside me, Lisa reached over to pat my leg as I drove, trying to calm me so I wouldn’t drive erratically.

As I pulled onto their street, police cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance lined the side. I parked behind them, two houses down, and ran to the house – I left my purse and jacket in the car. As I got there, I ran up to the garage, where mom had said he had been.

There I saw him, laying on the ground, a white sheet on his torso. A police woman quickly ushered me away to the front porch (the garage is on the side of the house, not the front, so I couldn’t see what was going on) and had a paramedic talk to me.

They had pronounced him.

It was as though the ground was ripped out from under my feet.

It hurt, so much. I immediately went to my mom and held her, both of us crying. Lisa hugged us as well and cried with us, since he was like a second father to her. We saw my parents almost every day, from running errands with them to eating dinner to going to sporting events with my dad.

The rest of the day is a messy blur of tears. My brother and half-sister showed up, just as shocked as us. The funeral home came and took him away. They set up a meeting for the following day. I got the story from mom of what happened…

They had just returned home from eating lunch. Dad hadn’t even gone inside; he wanted to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to cut down some branches from the pine tree in front that were damaged in an ice storm the month before. Mom had gone inside and was laying down. After a bit, her phone rang. It was my dad, and she could tell something was wrong. “I need you…” he said. She asked where he was. In the garage. So she ran out, phone in hand, and found him laying on the ground. He reached up for her, she took his hand, and he passed out.

She fumbled with her phone to call 911 and tried her best to do CPR while waiting on the ambulance. She said it took about 5 minutes for them to arrive, but it felt like ages. I know she blames herself for not calling fast enough, for not doing CPR right, but honestly, from what she said, it was likely too late already.

The firemen cut down the branch for us before departing.

The last week and a half have felt like an eternity. We had the stress of planning a funeral with no idea what to do, of figuring out where we go from here. Mom hasn’t been working; dad was providing and wanted to work a few more years before retirement so he could “pay off his toys”. We’re trying to figure out how soon she can get payouts, if she’ll be able to keep the house, and whether or not she’ll be forced to go back to work. This is all outside our comfort zones, and we feel like fish out of water – never mind not even having the time to properly grieve my father’s loss.

In addition to gathering photos for the visitation and writing my dad’s eulogy, my mom’s brother, whom I hadn’t seen in years, flew in for the funeral and stayed at my house. Even though I took a week off school and work, I barely had any rest. I had to wake early on my birthday to take my uncle to the airport, and the day passed with a whimper – not even a cake (which I did get, though a few days late).

Even returning to school and work has been hard. I missed a math test that I had to make up. I had to cram two weeks of homework into just a few days. At work, once again, my coworkers neglected my birthday (it’s custom to pass around a birthday card for all to sign, but not once since I began working here have I received one). I did receive two sympathy cards, though, and just reading them made me start to tear up again.

Despite the stress, my dad has been laid to rest in a national cemetery. He was a 20 year Army retiree and veteran, so he received a spot to rest, overlooking the Mississippi river, along with military honors – Army pallbearers, presentation of the flag to my mother, a rifle volley, and the playing of taps. All in all, it was lovely, but it still doesn’t feel right.

My dad was one of my best friends.

We shared many hobbies. Photography, astronomy, hockey, technology, just to name a few. We spent lots of time together. I ate with my parents nearly daily, and I was always happy to run them around or just provide company if they needed me. My dad would always message me on Google talk first thing in the morning – usually to report on that morning’s cat antics.

He was a smart man, a silently caring man, one who was always there to bail me out of trouble if I needed him. He never forgot a birthday or anniversary. He loved to learn, and loved to share his knowledge. He was opinionated, but wouldn’t force his opinions on others. He was kind. He was funny. He was the best dad I could ask for, and I miss him more than I could ever put into words.

I want to try to document my fondest memories with him before they start to fade. Like going to the Winter Classic in January, the first one ever in St. Louis. Of going to many hockey games, particularly this year, when we bought a 12-game pack to see the Blues play. Of going to take photos together. Of going to look at the stars together.

It hurts, and it probably will for a long time. I still expect him to message me any minute. I even had a moment of wanting to tell him about NASA’s planetary discovery yesterday, only to despair when I remembered that he’s not there.

I’m terrible with grief. I’ve really only lost my grandparents – my mom’s parents were gone before I was even born, and though I have lost both of my dad’s parents, they lived out in Arizona for most of my life, so I never was super close to them. I cried a little when they died, but it didn’t feel like a knife to the chest or a kick in the gut the way this does. I don’t really know how to process a loss this close to home.

To my friends – please forgive me if I’m not quite right for a while.

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I miss you, daddy. You were awesome.

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Making cat food! (pic heavy)

I’m a bit late in writing about this, but last Friday, I took my first steps into making my own raw cat food. Feeding the bunch quality canned food was getting expensive, and even then it didn’t always sit well with them, so Lisa and I decided that going raw would probably be better for them. I talked my mom into trying it out, and she purchased the grinder on the condition that I would make the food for her crew, too. Once I had everything, I got to work!

I used the recipe from Dr. Lisa Pearson at catinfo.org, though for my first batch, I did completely raw (instead of the partially cooked version she uses). I might try the partially cooked version the next time I make a batch.

Lisa helped document the process, so here we go!

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The grinder and the dry ingredients I used. Most I purchased from iHerb.com. Use the link or enter code GZP451 to save $5 on your first order! The Fish Oil I got in a BOGO sale from Walgreens. Salt is from Walmart.

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Rio and Aya had to inspect the grinder, as Omi watched on.

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Sogo wasn’t too sure about this.

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I started off by rinsing all of the chicken thighs to get the surface bacteria off. If I decide to do the partially cooked version next time, this step won’t be necessary.

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30 lbs. of chicken thighs + 2.5 lbs of chicken livers… I think I need to buy some more big bowls before my next batch!

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I used this big tub for mixing. I would have benefited from one slightly smaller, but the store I was at didn’t have anything smaller that would still hold it all, so this was good enough.

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Omi looking on.

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Phantom knows there’s chicken.

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Meanwhile, Aya makes a game out of playing with Omi’s tail.

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Phantom: “Where’s the chicken, minion?”

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First off, I put the fish oil capsules in the water to dissolve them (they ended up swelling and emptying, but the shells didn’t dissolve completely. Might run them through the grinder next time).

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Sogo watches on as I break open the vitamin capsules.

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Sogo: “What are these weird things?”

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Sogo: “Are you sure this is edible?”

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Adding the powdered taurine – necessary when not using fresh hearts.

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Of course Aya had to see what was going on.

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Aya: “I don’t trust this!”

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Lots of mixing!

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Impatient Sogo.

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Sogo: “I don’t think you know what you’re doing!”

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After the vitamins were mixed with the water came the fun part – prepping the chicken for grinding!

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I had to cut the thighs into chunks that would fit in the grinder. As I went, I removed about 50% of the skins, as well as 25% of the bones to keep the ratios correct. As I did this, I prepared a bowl of chunked meat to add a little bit for the cats to chew on for dental health. This was the longest part of the whole process – 30 lbs is a lot of chicken!

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Once everything was processed, I started grinding! This was easiest with a bowl in the sink to catch the ground chicken. That thing is loud – I think I’ll get ear plugs to use from now on. It worked very well, though. We only had one jam, and a quick reverse cleared it right up.

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Adding the ground meat to the vitamin mix.

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The mound grows…

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And after a thorough mixing by hand, the batch is complete!

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From there, things got messy as we packed the finished food into mason jars. This batch made just over 36 pint-sized jars, or 4 jars per cat (5 cats of mine and 4 of my mom’s).

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And here we have the finished product, ready to freeze!

The whole batch made approximately enough for 12-14 days per cat. I haven’t crunched the exact numbers yet, but my early figures put the cost at around 60-90 cents per cat per day, much less than buying a good quality canned food.

Of course there comes the matter of transitioning. Our cats were used to a canned food only diet, so it’s been slightly easier working the new food into their diet. Rio was the only one of the bunch who took to the new food right away, gobbling it down with no problem (as well as eating what the other cats wouldn’t touch!)

Since the others are being buttheads, we are currently mixing a small amount of commercial canned food in with their raw food, and they’re finishing it all. We’re very slowly lessening the amount of the commercial food mixed in, with the hopes that eventually we can cut it out altogether.

My mom is having more trouble with her crew, though, as they’re used to mostly kibble, with a little bit of canned food once a day. She has a bunch of super picky eaters, and they don’t even seem to want to eat it mixed in. We might try a few of the suggestions listed on Dr. Pearson’s page and see what we can come up with for them.

This is a huge undertaking but I think once we get them on the right track it will be super beneficial for everyone!

Cats and more Cats

Anyone who knows me knows that I am what you might call a Crazy Cat Lady. I grew up with both dogs and cats, but felines were always my favorite. Now that I’m living away from my parents, I have continued on the long and winding path of the insane feline lover.

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Omi, March 2015

When my roomie and I first moved out on our own, we each took our cat with us, giving us a grand total of two. Omi was my clingy and needy black baby (who is actually the elder, currently 13 years old) and Phantom was her crazy grey cat (who we now believe to be at least part Korat). This was an acceptable amount of cats for us, and worked perfectly well for the first three years we were on our own.

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Phantom, January 2016

Then, in the fateful summer of 2014, I waltzed into a pet store with the intention of maybe picking up some cat food. It was my mother who really needed to be there; I was just along for the ride. Right by the entrance doors, a rescue group had a few cages set up, and inside were an assortment of kittens.

One kitten in particular caught my eye, with the way she was climbing the sides of her cage like a crazy monkey. She was a calico, and while I normally hadn’t given calicoes much thought (as some of their patterns I’m not particularly fond of), something about hers pleased me. It was an impulse adoption for sure, but she ended up coming home with us, and we named her Rio.

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Rio, January 2016

Rio pretty much took over the place as soon as we brought her in. The first day, we left my room door open, with a big TV box blocking the way (so the boys couldn’t get in, but she couldn’t get out). By the time we came home from work, the box was knocked over, and the fearless kitten was out roaming around. In no time, she was the mother of the bunch, grooming the boys into submission and giving Phantom a much needed playmate. (Omi, while playful on his own, has never really gotten along with Phantom in terms of play – it usually ends in hissing).

And it was there that I said I was good – no more cats. At least not until we got a house, or one of the other cats passed away (something I hope never happens – hah!)

Cue a moment of weakness.

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Aya and Phantom, September 2015

I saw her picture on the Missouri Humane Society’s website. She was adorable and black, and I fell in love right away. However, she was a kitten, and I didn’t have anywhere near the adoption fee for one. But, they just HAD to run a special on kitten adoptions. I just HAD to swing by after work one day.

Our cat count increased to four: two boys, two girls, all nutters.

OK, I admit this was pushing it. For just the two of us, it was a lot to handle. However, I knew we could manage. Aya has turned out to be a handful, though. Christmas tree scaler, poster clawer, and expert of the extended meow, she’s fit in rather nicely with the younger group, zooming around the apartment with them whenever she gets a wild hair up her bum.

It was there that I anticipated our family stopping, and it likely would have, if not for some unsavory neighbors a few buildings over.

This apartment, you see, was on our way out of the complex. In the spring, when driving by, we noticed a calico cat sitting on the deck of this apartment, watching the cars go by. The weather was lovely, and I didn’t think much of the owners wanting their little kitty to get some sunshine and fresh air. It continued into the summer, when temperatures were rather mild, and we looked forward to seeing her there.

Late summer, we stopped seeing her, and didn’t see her throughout the fall. It was early December when we noticed a tiny calico cat sitting on the outside steps leading up to that particular apartment. I don’t know if it was the same cat or not, and judging by her size I guess not, but we figured she just got out and her owners would get her back in once they got home.

However, that night, I came home from class and she was still outside. It was cold and expected to get rather chilly that night, so after much fussing and debating, I went up and knocked on the door.

“Do you have a calico cat who got out?”
“I don’t know what she is, but yeah, we have a cat.”
“I have her in my car currently. It’s pretty cold out and I didn’t want to her to freeze.”
“Oh she’s crazy. She runs out all the time, we can’t keep her in.”

I hand her the cat. She walks a few steps, and the cat bolts from her arms. “See, crazy, I told you!”

I go home, assuming poor little calico is inside and warm and that would be the end of that.

The next day, she’s outside.

I didn’t see her that evening, but the morning after, in below freezing temperatures, she was still there.

I came home from work, she was still outside.

That was the last straw.

I went home, grabbed my cat cage, and went to pick her up. She was so trusting, coming right up to me and rubbing against my legs, purring and lapping up attention. We fed her, and she just gobbled it up like it had been a long time.

We decided to at least keep her for a while, to make sure that she could warm up and build up her strength. She had been acting a little more standoffish, though, and would growl and spit if we pet her in a certain spot. We figured something was wrong, so we took her to the vet.

She was without a microchip. They tested her for Feline Leukemia, worms, and examined her. She had a fever, and it seemed like a bite somewhere on her, causing the fever and pain. I have never seen a cat put up so much of a fight during a vet exam, but she did NOT want to let them draw blood. Poor baby.

We received a course of pain meds and antibiotics for her, both of which were a pain, but seemed to do the trick. Of course, during the course of these meds, we ran into another problem – my roomie fell in love.

And so it came to pass that not four, but five felines lived under one roof – officially turning it into the Crazy Cat Lady House.

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Sogo, January 2016

 

PS  – Due to roomie being jobless and the crunch of the end of year, we had a GoFundMe account set up to cover Sogo’s vet care. Thanks to my wonderful family, our goal has been met, but there are still more costs to come. She needs rabies shots, and she might not be spayed, which would put even more strain on us. If you want to contribute, you can visit the page here.

Happy New Year!

I keep meaning to post more, and life keeps getting in the way. I figured what better time to try and get back into the habit than the beginning of the new year?

2015 was rough. Among many things, I turned 30. My roommate lost her job, leading to increased financial pressure at home. My mood has been far from stable. I fractured my foot. My car was backed into. Record flooding in my area closed out the year.

Flooding in Valley Park, MO

As the flood waters receded, the sun came out for the first time in what felt like forever today. I’m thankful that I live at a high enough altitude that the flooding didn’t impact me personally. On December 30th, I went down to check out the waters of the Meramec River about 12 hours before they crested in nearby Valley Park, MO, where Interstate 44 at highway 141 was submerged. It was a surreal scene, to see an intersection I go through regularly completely shut down due to water.

I went back today and took more photos, which I will post later on. For now, you can see my album from the 30th here.

2015 wasn’t entirely bad, though. I started to fit in more at my new job. I expanded my doll family. A lot. I also expanded my cat family. I’ve become a slightly better photographer.

I still feel, though, like in the grand scheme of things, 2015 is a year that I’d not like to repeat. As I rang in the new year, with my best friend Lisa, my parents, and my Uncle Larry, I resolved that somehow, this year would be different. Somehow, I would make things better. Even if just a little at a time.

Then I promptly knocked over – and broke – a jar containing decorative sea shells.

Quite the unfortunate beginning, for sure.

After much needed rest, things weren’t exactly better. Moods around me were sour, which is a bad thing for an empathetic person like me, and after taking photos of the flood waters, I wound up with a hell of a migraine. I had to rest in a dark room for about two hours, even then waking up woozy, but at least I awoke with my darling calico, Rio, snuggled beside my legs. Usually, she sleeps with my room mate, so it was a welcome surprise.

Though 2016 might not have kicked off in the best way, I’m still hoping that things will slowly get better.

Happy new year, everyone!

PS – I’m going to be participating in the Dogwood Photography 52 Week Photo Challenge. Once I get going, I plan to post my photos here weekly. If you have a Flickr, feel free to follow me there. If not, check back here!

Miscellaneous photos

Here are the other photos I took. Most of them were around my parents’ house, but the Ferris wheel was taken at Manchester Homecoming, my city’s yearly fall festival. I didn’t really get to spend much time there this year, but I couldn’t help but take some nice photos! (Even if Lisa says I was cheating by using a remote shutter… pshhh)

Photo Class Shots

Photo Class Shots

Photo Class Shots

Photo Class Shots

Photo Class Shots

Photo Class Shots

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Cats

Trying to shoot some examples of fast shutter speed for a digital photography assignment, I gathered the help of my roomie (http://sakinasai.com) and set about photographing the cats playing.

Pictured below are Rio (calico), Phantom (Russian Blue), and Aya (Black shorthair). Some aren’t the best photos, but I thought they came out well enough for a blog post.

Enjoy!

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