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Reunited (And It Feels So Good)

When I was a child, I had a friend named Emily. (Actually I still have a friend named Emily, but no matter). Emily had a house that had a furnished basement. And the furnished basement had a fridge that contained rows and rows of tiny green bottles filled with a deliciously zingy liquid called Bitter Lemon. It was, if I remember correctly, her father’s favorite drink. And soon after Emily first introduced me to Bitter Lemon, it became my favorite drink too.

Of course, access was a problem. I could drink as much as I wanted at Emily’s house. But my house didn’t have a furnished basement. And it certainly didn’t have a fridge stocked with Bitter Lemon. So I would binge and then go through prolonged periods of withdrawal. Finally, after some not-so-subtle hints, Emily would invite me over again, and the cycle would begin anew. That is, until I hatched a brilliant plan.

The plan was relatively simple: I would beg. Through feverish bouts of shameless begging, I hoped to convince my father to drink Bitter Lemon, or at least to buy Bitter Lemon so that I might drink it. And lo and behold, it worked.

Of course, unlike Emily’s family, we never had an entire fridge dedicated to Bitter Lemon. At my house, it was a special treat. Mostly I remember drinking bottle after bottle when we canoed the Wisconsin River. The adults would crack the cooler and pull out their adult bottles of beer (or plastic cups of strip-and-go-naked) and I would kick back with my icy-cold bottle of Bitter Lemon. We would sip our drinks, nod knowingly, and watch the world float by. It was magic.

Then, tragedy struck. Bitter Lemon disappeared. First there was a hole on the store shelves where the tiny bootles had been. And then even the hole was gone, filled in by something disgusting — grape soda, no doubt.

So you can imagine my surprise and UTTER delight when, last week, I discovered Bitter Lemon at Duane Reade. At the PHARMACY for crying out loud! “What are you DOING here?!” I exclaimed, clutching the one-liter bottle to my bosom. And then I took it home. We had a delicious reunion. Bitter Lemon tastes just like I remember. Why yes, Tommy, you can go home again.

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Izzy is so mind-blowingly adorable sometimes that I almost can’t handle it. Here she is luxuriating on the blanket my mom bought her for Christmas.

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Lemon Cat

I can’t even remember how many times I’ve told my dad, an avid curbpicker, “Don’t take something just because it’s free.” Yet what do I do? I scoop up the first mangy, ragtag cat that sits in my lap. “Oh she’s so adorable,” I gush. “Let’s keep her.” Cats are easy, I remember thinking. Having once been surrogate mother to the most difficult cat known to man (RIP, Suki), I should have known better.

Izzy’s problems began even before her first vet visit. She was sneezing. “No big deal,” I thought. “She probably has a cold.” And then her eye clouded over. I freaked out, but then it healed. “No big deal,” I thought. “She probably has cat herpes. Lots of cats have that.” And then then her other eye clouded over and her pupil stopped responding to light. Six vet visits, six bottles of antibiotics, and $900 dollars later, her cold is seeming like a very big flipping deal. Of course, now we’re financially and emotionally invested, so kicking her scrawny, bacteria-ridden butt back to the curb isn’t really an option.

The latest diagnosis? Bartonellosis otherwise known as cat scratch fever. Yes, it’s a real thing. Cats get the bacteria from fleas, and humans get it from cats. She tested positive for Bartonella antibodies, although there’s no way of knowning whether her symptoms are the result of this infection, some other infection, or a completely different condition altogether. All we can do is treat it and hope she gets better.

The whole affair has left me riddled with anxiety. I should be working. Instead I’m sifting through veterinary journals. According to the medical literature, azithromycin is the recommended antibiotic for Bartonella infection. So why did Dr. Mann put her on clindamycin, a drug recommended for toxoplasmosis? These are the questions that keep me up nights. It’s torture.

The other day, Soren came home to find me feverishly writing down Izzy’s symptoms on his white board, Gregory House style. Given that I’m not a vet, it was an exercise in futility. (Damn it, Jim! I’m a science writer, not a doctor.)

I’ve taken to calling Izzy “Lemon Cat.” Let her be a constant reminder not to pick things up off the curb. And if you need another reminder, ask my dad about the time he picked up a dresser that was infested with fleas. Beware the curbside freebie.


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Izzy Gets Spayed

My first cat, Suki, was spayed in Bolivia. When I arrived to pick her up, the assistant said, “They’re just finishing up. Why don’t you come on back?” So I did. Suki was on the operating table. Apparently “finishing up” meant the vet was still putting stitches in. Off to the side, on folded slip of pink toilet paper (only in the developing world do they use pink toilet paper), lay her ovaries and uterus — a “V” of stringy, pink flesh.

Suki was still completely knocked out. When I got back to the house, I put her in a cardboard box lined with a soft blanket. At 3am, she woke up and began to yowl and thrash. When I tried to hold her still, she bit me. Bleeding, I rushed to get a towel. I wrapped her up and spent the rest of the night cuddling her. Every time she woke and started yowling, I had to stroke her back to sleep.

Compared to that experience, Izzy’s surgery was a piece of cake. I dropped her off at 11am. Soren picked her up at 7pm. When she got home she was groggy, but awake. Her pain seemed manageable. But she soon began to lick and tug at her stitches. So we put her head inside the mandatory $18 plastic cone that the vet provided. No dice. She flopped around like a dying fish and then scooted backwards across the floor growling.

Next we tried one of Soren’s tube socks. But it seemed too tight. Finally, we got one of my legwarmers around her midsection. That took care of the licking last night, but I was worried that the fabric wasn’t letting the wound breathe.

So this morning I made a little t-shirt coat. I cut a rectangle out of one of my old t-shirts, safety-pinned it around her middle, and pinned a strap across her chest so it wouldn’t slip. Dark gray isn’t the best color on her, but I figure it’s all about healing, not fashion.

The only downside of having your cat spayed in the US (vs. Bolivia) is the cost. I paid about 200 bolivianos to get Suki spayed (roughly $30). Spaying Izzy cost $237 (and that was with a gift certificate for a so-called “low-cost” spay). I’m still filled with righteous indignation. (C’mon! $18 for a plastic cone that she wore for 5 minutes). What makes me even more angry is that they originally gave me a quote of $87.

The surgery went fine, but now Izzy seems to have developed an upper respiratory infection, which I’m sure will mean more money, more antibiotics, and more stress. Sigh. They are expensive little beasts — at least in the US.

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Here kitty, kitty . . .

Well, we finally did it. After weeks of hemming and hawing, we now have a cat. The tipping point was a chance encounter in a friend’s backyard. We stopped over for a barbecue, and a tiny stray came mincing through the garden to greet us. Then she hopped up in my lap, curled in a ball and started purring. It’s very easy to say “no” to a theoretical cat. It’s very, very hard to say “no” to a homeless flesh-and-blood feline, especially such a charming one.

So last week, we bought a cat carrier and picked her up. “Izzy” has adjusted to life indoors beautifully. She uses the litterbox, chases toy mice, sleeps with us and has expressed no desire to go outside. Not surprising, really. You wouldn’t be so psyched about the outdoors either had you once been forced to live on the streets.

This week was Izzy’s first visit to the vet. Based on her size, habits and teeth, he thinks she is about 7 or 8 months old. (“She’s a ‘tween,’ just like Miley Cyrus. We’ll call you Izzy Cyrus, won’t we!” the vet gushed. Which raises two obvious questions: What does my 40-year-old vet know about teenage pop sensation Miley Cyrus? And why does he feel a need to share this knowledge with me, making himself appear even stranger than he probably is?)

This being the US, it shouldn’t surprise me that after one vet visit we’ve already spent more on Izzy’s healthcare than I have on my own. Next week she goes in to get spayed. My vet charges $250–and that’s cheap. I called another vet in Stroller Central (Park Slope) and they charge $450! Call me heartless, but it’s a cat. They can’t figure out some way of cutting costs? My vet actually offers a $65 test (optional, thank goodness) to make sure that the cat won’t have an adverse reaction to the anesthetic. I can’t even afford to spend $65 on myself for optional procedures. (If I could, I might consider a massage, or botox).

Enough venting! The point is that she is very sweet and cute, and we’re happy to have her.


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Puppy Madness

Puppies make me weak in the knees. Here’s one that’s nearly too cute to exist.

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A Lovely Labor Day Stay-cation

Most people leave for Labor Day. We debated and dithered. We backed and we forthed, but ultimately we decided to stay. And I’m pleased to report we had a very lovely stay-cation.

Friday night Soren and I babysat our friends’ 3-month-old son. He seemed pleased to see us at first. But when he realized our boobs don’t produce milk, he became infuriated. Crying followed by more crying followed by even harder crying. Finally, exhausted, he collapsed on my chest and slept. Poor little guy. His parents had a lovely, but short, dinner — just the two of them.

Saturday was a lazy, hot day. After spending the morning cleaning, we met up with friends in Prospect Park for a picnic. The spread included a delicious beet salad composed of raw beets, raw carrots, raw red onion, parsley, orange juice, olive oil and lemon juice. You would think raw beets would be tough, but these were delicious, perhaps because they were matchsticked. The recipe (more or less) is here. Perfect! I may attempt it myself this weekend. After the picnic, we followed our friends back to their house for an impromptu party. They are very good at having impromptu parties because 1. they have a phenomenal back yard with an expansive garden and a fire pit, 2. six people live in their house and 3. they are masters at whipping together on-the-fly meals.

Sunday I hit the farmer’s market. Then I came home and canned dilly beans. I added dill seeds, a clove of garlic and a hot pepper to each jar. Everything seemed to work out fine. The jars sealed with no problems. But I won’t know how they taste for a few more weeks. The beans have to sit for 4 to 6 weeks before we can enjoy them.

That evening, we took a train to Astoria to visit more friends. Brooklyn and Queens are right next to each other, but trekking from one to the other takes as long as a trans-Atlantic journey. Ok, maybe not THAT long, but at least 1.5 hours. We might as well live in different cities. Still, the trip was worth it. Thanks for a delightful evening, Sally and Kyle!

So our weekend wasn’t wholly a stay-cation. Monday our friends (who are fortunate enough to own a car) drove us to Cold Spring, a small town on the Hudson about an hour north of the city. The whole area is ringed with miles and miles of hiking trails. We chose a 5 or 6 mile loop that took us to the top of Bull Mountain (Mt. Taurus). It was a perfect day for hiking, cool with not too much sun. The views were awesome, and the greenness of the forest definitely helped ease some of the constant frenzy that comes with city living.

Our friends’ dog, Gunther, apparently felt the magic as well. In the city, he absolutely REFUSES to walk farther than a block. But he had no problem finishing this hike. He even had a chance to run off leash.

Large game was in short supply, but we did manage to see bugs, slugs, spiders and a single snake. In the Midwest, the slugs are gray and small — about the size of a jelly bean. They are disgusting, for sure, but relatively inconspicuous. The slugs in the East are brightly colored and enormous, 3 to 5 inches. I first noticed them on the sidewalks in our neighborhood.

Brooklyn slugs have leopard spots. The slugs on the trail in Cold Spring — all eleventy billion of them — were rust colored with black tentacles. Once I spotted the first one, I couldn’t stop seeing them. They were everywhere, and so were their slimy slug trails.

I told my mom about enormous eastern slugs the last time I was home, and she asked me “What are slugs for?” The question seemed enigmatic at the time, but now I realize it was a good one.

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