just okay

It was a pretty wild month, there: trip to New York, conference, thesis defense seminar, Phoebe’s death, and the last frantic manuscript work, with another presentation, continuously failing science, and teaching (that continues to be WAY more work than it should be) peppered in-between. My panic disorder has reared its ugly head again. Two weeks later, I still expect to see Phoebe about 45394862 times a day, and my heart breaks a little every time. Probably not too surprisingly, I became very ill a few hours after the trip to the vet, and have only just been able to eat again – sort of – a couple days ago.

But the dust is starting to settle, and I am (mostly) okay. Life is slowly moving on.

On Friday, I was labeling a student’s cultures, and I asked her the day’s date. I was startled when she said, “November 20.” The twentieth?? When the hell did that happen?!

…and with that, all of my holiday knitting has gone straight down the drain, except for one project. (More on that after Christmas.)


Time is a factor, of course. I was clinging to a desperate hope that I would find the motivation and time to make a few things, but as this project is barely half-finished after a month of work… yeah, right.

But even more than that, over these past couple weeks of crippling stress-induced illness, I realized that I really have to at least TRY to make life easier for myself, or I am going to do actual damage to my health. Some of my stress will never change; some won’t anytime soon. So, the not-so-necessary things have to go, and the first of those things, turns out, was the Christmas knitting.

I don’t enjoy it anymore, to be honest. Figuring out what to make has become difficult, as my recipients have amassed handmade things in multiples. Crafting with a deadline used to be kind of a rush, but my entire LIFE is deadlines now, and the thrill is gone. If my heart’s not in it, what’s the point? (I am WAY past the days where I crafted gifts because I couldn’t afford to buy them, thank the gods.)

So, I will finish this gift – hopefully, in time! – and then I will move on to yarny projects that soothe my banged-up, weary soul. Not sure what that means yet, except “something new.”


if you didn’t already think i’m a crazy cat lady…

…you will probably be convinced of it by the end of this post.

I am unspeakably sad. I can’t even tell you how many times a day one of these things happens:

  • I stop what I’m doing and think, “I should go upstairs and check on the cat.”
  • I go upstairs and look down the hall, hoping to see her laying on the hall rug.
  • I walk past “her” room, and expect to see her laying by her food bowl.
  • I wake up in the middle of the night, startled that I forgot something so routine as feeding the cat her canned food, and then realize that there’s no cat to feed.

It hasn’t sunk in yet, in other words. She’s gone from the house, but I can’t erase 15 years of companionship from my life, heart, routine. A little part of my brain keeps thinking that it was a terrible dream. (I’ll wake up any minute now, right?)

But that said…

This morning, I posted my good news on Facebook: On Friday, I successfully completed my seminar and, therefore, the requirements for my M.S. in Biology, AND that manuscript has finally been accepted for publication. Then I started working on sciencey things, until suddenly…


A year or so ago, when Phoebe’s range of motion took a step downward and I (prematurely) thought that her time might come soon, I whispered to her, “Cat, all I ask is that you hang on until I finish this master’s.” I knew how much work and stress this degree was going to be in the end, and I didn’t want to get distracted by grief midway through intense data analysis. But life works the way it does, and never on the schedule that we want it to. I am a sane, logical person who knows that, so I absolutely did not think that I was actually making a bargain with my cat.


Phoebe was declining, but making do, until 4 days before my presentation, which is exactly when I would have started REALLY freaking out about giving said presentation. Instead, I spent those days so preoccupied with the cat that I really wasn’t that nervous until just before “showtime”. (I kept telling people that I was nervous, because I didn’t want to admit that I cared & worried more about my cat than this stupid seminar I was obligated to give. But truly, my mind was only on Phoebe.)

Anyway, there were a few times in the past week where I snuggled Phoebe and whispered, “It’s okay, Kitten. You can go when you’re ready, and I won’t stop you.” Although we had an appointment set, I was absolutely prepared, at any time, to take her to the emergency vet in the middle of the night, if need be. But she just kept on holding steady, still full of attitude even as she got weaker, loving me back when I loved on her, and eating treats as I hand-fed them.

Friday night, seminar finished, I said instead, “You did it. You saw me finish my master’s.” What makes that especially crazy – other than, you know, having this conversation WITH A CAT – is the fact that I didn’t remember the previous conversation, a year or so ago. I just opened my mouth, and out came this seemingly random statement, spoken to a feline.

Thinking about it now, I don’t think it was coincidence that, a few hours later, I could no longer entice her to nibble on her favorite treats. She was done.

I still didn’t remember the previous conversation, though. At the vet’s, Saturday afternoon, as she lay on the exam table, dazed and already mostly-gone, I felt compelled to say again that she had seen me finish my master’s, even if my dad never did. What the actual fuck? Where is this shit even coming from?!

I didn’t remember the conversation until just now.

That damn cat (which I say with great affection) decided that, even though I told her to go, she was going to see me finish this. As a parting “gift,” she distracted me sufficiently that I didn’t drive myself batshit crazy by second-guessing my work. I don’t care if you don’t think cats are capable of thought – I absolutely believe this, and I will believe it until the day I die.

And the comment about my dad? Saturday was also the anniversary of Dad’s death. It was probably just a nudge from my subconscious, but I could also interpret it as a reminder that Dad would be proud as hell of what I’ve accomplished.

Thank you, Phoebe.

Today had the potential to be a truly horrible day. Mondays are my work-from-home days, and have traditionally involved a mid-afternoon nap with Phoebe. It’s a small luxury, but one of the highlights of my week, a throwback to a time when I wasn’t so incredibly busy 7 days a week, and I could afford to nap with my pets when I wanted to. This is the first Monday where I wasn’t reminded of naptime with a squawk as I walked by the room, and there will never be another Monday where Phoebe trundles down the hall to get me, too impatient to wait.

Instead, I am okay. Really very incredibly sad, and I miss that furball so much, but I’m actually okay.

We looked out for each other until the very end, and there’s nothing better than that.

may 1, 2001 – november 7, 2015

You were a difficult kitten, every bit as hostile as you were adorable. The day we brought you home, you gouged my arm with your dagger claws, from elbow to wrist. It wouldn’t be the last time you did that, either.

that's phoebe, in front

(that’s phoebe, in front)

But you decided that I was okay. You destroyed armchairs, you knocked over plants, you chewed books, but never mine. I was Mama Cat, I guess, and you came to love me, trust me, depend on me. I loved you, too, and I hope you knew that.

When that marriage went sour and I was unemployed, not sure where the hell I was going to live, you weren’t even 2 years old. I thought that I would give you (and your sister) up to a shelter. I couldn’t take care of you. One night, sleeping in the basement, you crawled onto the futon next to me, curled up against my body, and slipped your little paw into my hand. I cried. At that moment, I decided that NOTHING was big enough to separate you from me.


And nothing was. You lived in Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Maine, Michigan, and Massachusetts. You made life difficult for every man who tried to make a life with me, until you met the one who was actually worthy of doing so. (And then you loved him.) You bossed your sister around, and you struck fear into a 75-pound dog. You lived a pretty big adventure, for a cat… and, especially, a cat with a humped back and crooked legs, who never would have stood a chance if I hadn’t given you one.

You gave me so much more than that, Kitten.


Your sister was part of my everyday in a big, in-your-face kind of way. You were my everyday in quieter, subtle ways, at least lately, but you’re leaving just as big of a hole in my heart.


I love you so much, Phoebe. Rest well.

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a little semi-instant gratification

I haven’t felt much like knitting lately – or, rather, I have absolutely felt like knitting, but haven’t had the time or energy to actually do it. But once the Rhinebeck/Phoebe/NEASM dust settled a bit, the proper motivation finally happened in sufficient amounts that I had to act on it:

  • I am ridiculously bored with the plain cotton yarn of Snowflake, and I wanted to work with something colorful.
  • I am also bored with big projects, and need a little instant gratification.
  • The fabulous new jacket that Mom got me is a couple inches too short in the sleeves, when I move my arms.

I dug through my stash, and found one of the most colorful yarns I own: a rainbow-colored handspun that I picked up on one of my trips to Mom’s.


I had previously knitted this yarn into a cowl that looked better than it worked, so it had been frogged and restashed. Now, it was going to become mitts.


Pattern: Camp Out Fingerless Mitts (free)

I made a couple small pattern mods. I added a few stitches to flare the cuff, and knitted about 1.5″ longer than the pattern. I also picked up stitches and knitted a few ridges of garter stitch for the thumbs. Can’t have cold thumbs!

The handspun was a little uneven, and I was concerned that it wasn’t quite thick enough to be the aran weight called for in the pattern, so I held a strand of laceweight (Knit Picks Shadow in “Wine Kettle”) along with it. It wasn’t necessary, turns out. But I like the effect, and the mitts are sturdy and very, very warm.

bonus: halloween nails!

bonus: halloween nails!

Colorful? Check! Fast? Yep! Keeps my wrists covered? Mission accomplished.

what a week! (part III: geriatric pets)

Wait, what? There’s a Part III? Yep, because the week wasn’t chaotic-enough yet!

Sunday evening, I’m watching football at Mom’s. We had just finished the cake portion of the birthday party, and everyone’s relaxing, socializing, enjoying each other’s company. My phone suddenly chirps my husband’s text-message notification.


He had spent the entire day with the cat, checking on her constantly, because she hadn’t used the litterbox or eaten anything in a day. (Remember, this is how Phaedra’s rapid decline started.) She also seemed lethargic, and even allowed Michael to pick her up, which is highly unusual.

As we talk about it, I start freaking the hell out. If you’ll recall the circumstances around Phaedra’s passing, I had gone to New York the previous weekend… and when she took a dramatic turn for the worse, I was on campus, unable to leave. It’s been 3 years, and I still haven’t forgiven myself. (No joke; this is actually something I’ve taken up with my therapist.)

If it happens a second time…

By the time I left Mom’s, Phoebe seemed to be okay again, according to Michael. And this was pretty much how I found her when I got home: cozy on her bed, annoyed at being awakened. You know, normal.

she will be the death of me.

she will be the death of me, and she’s proud of this.

But that didn’t stop me from worrying. I worried all day at the NEASM meeting. I worried as I taught my class on Wednesday. I spent all of Thursday and Friday wishing I was at home with Phoebe. I watched her like a hawk all weekend.

Phoebe is 14-and-a-half years old. She was born with a back deformity that didn’t really become a problem until her twilight years, leaving her crooked-legged. A few years ago, her back legs locked up completely and couldn’t bend anymore, but she could still get around when she wanted to, and she seemed happy and content. I always said that when ANY of that changed, I would make the heartbreaking decision to have her put to sleep.

I thought that change would be obvious. It still isn’t. The only change I’ve seen is that she isn’t immediately hobbling over to her bowl when I bring dinner, like she used to. She lays on her bed, complaining loudly about how she wants that bowl brought to her, and if we don’t comply, she eventually gets up to eat.

Is that “enough” change? How the hell am I even going to know?



Onyx isn’t doing so hot, either. We think she’s going senile. She wanders off more than she used to. Often, she’ll beg to go outside, only to stand in the yard, looking confused as to why she isn’t in the house. Then she comes inside, and does her business on the living room floor.

She’s also going blind and deaf. She slips and trips a lot.

But again, she’s such a sweet, happy thing – energetic and bouncy (yes, despite her arthritic legs). She sees the veterinarian often, and they point out that she’s a 9-year-old dog in a 14-year-old body, healthy as an ox. I’m happy to hear that, but it doesn’t make decisions easier.

I often thought it would be awful to come home from work and find them dead, passed quietly in their sleep, but actually, now, it would be a relief from all of this worrying.



Back in New York, a wee black cat named Leeloo patiently waits. Every time I visit, she latches onto me. Every time I visit, Mom asks if I’ll take her home, because the corgis chase her mercilessly, and nobody is really willing to give her the amount of affection she clearly needs. (She is pretty needy, for a cat.)

This visit, I quickly discussed it with Michael, and we said yes.

But Phoebe is just fine with being an only cat. In fact, she really didn’t come out of her shell until Phaedra was out of the picture. If we’re looking at Phoebe’s final weeks – as I think (?) we might be – I’m not going to stress her out by bringing in a new cat, especially a super-needy one.

So, Leeloo waits.

If nothing has changed by Christmas, we may just bring her here regardless. At that point, I’ll be home for a week, and can mediate the moving-in process. But right now? Out of the question. I cannot worry about cats beating each other up, on top of everything else.

what a week! (part II: NEASM)

Upon arriving home on Monday evening, I quickly lavished some love on the furballs and the husband, unpacked my suitcase, and repacked a small bag for the next adventure: the American Society for Microbiology’s annual Region I meeting, where I was also presenting research.

You might vaguely remember this meeting, because it was my first microbiology meeting ever, two years ago. You might also remember that I was panicking about it, and that I dealt with my anxiety by obsessing over clothes and getting my hair cut twice.

Things have changed a little in the past two years.

Tuesday morning, I tumbled out of bed (late) and threw on the most comfortable dress/shoes combination I could come up with. My poster had been slapped together the day before I left for Mom’s – the same template, with a little more data. Instead of bumming a ride from a labmate, I cheerfully tackled rush-hour traffic alone with the rental car. And when it came time to present…


…I was relaxed and comfortable, talking enthusiastically about my work… “wowing the crowd,” as my PI put it. (He pointed out that none of the other presenters had so many people visit their posters. This trio was particularly interested in my work, and chatted with me for a while, asking questions and encouraging me to do science for a long, long time.) Before I knew it, I’d been talking for almost an hour and a half, and presentation time was officially finished.

(This was doubly a surprise, because if I thought the meeting was small 2 years ago, this year’s conference was even smaller. I was one of only 15 posters! Once I saw the low attendance at the morning symposium, I assumed I’d be standing at my poster, bored, not talking to anyone, like last time. Wrong!)

After vacation + driving + more driving + the meeting, I assumed I’d be dead on my feet, and my plan was to decline my PI’s inevitable offer of dinner, in favor of going straight home. Plans being what they are, I instead joined him and a labmate for delicious Italian food (and a mighty fine bottle of Zin). No regrets, even if it meant being so wiped out that I saw Michael for about 10 minutes before zonking out on the couch.

One thing remained the same, though…


The previous Friday, while coat-shopping with Mom, I also lopped 6 inches or so off my hair. It seems that I can’t resist a good chop right before something important. As you can see from the color, though, my two-years-ago concern about looking “professional” has fallen by the wayside. Heh.

what a week! (part I: rhinebeck and family)

With everything else I have on my plate right now, someone who isn’t me would probably reschedule their vacation for a week later in the year, when things aren’t so nuts. But, well, I’m me, and schedule be damned, I was not taking this trip to New York any other week. Why?

The New York Sheep and Wool Festival, aka Rhinebeck.

I might get forced into co-teaching a course over my winter break, which means skipping my annual winter trek to Mom’s for a second year in a row. That sucks, quite frankly, so I decided that I was going to visit my family this fall, no matter what “responsibilities” had to be ditched for a week in the process. And that’s when Mom and I got the brilliant idea: why not visit the weekend of Rhinebeck? We’ve both wanted to go for years now, and neither one of us had ever managed to get there.


I got home Wednesday evening, made dinner, finished packing. Thursday morning, bright and early, I picked up my rental car, and off I went to Mom’s.

i was greeted enthusiastically by corgis.

i was greeted enthusiastically by corgis.

Thursday was a day of socializing, and Friday was mostly spent preparing for the day ahead: after looking at the forecast, we clearly both needed warmer jackets. And then it was Saturday! Rhinebeck day!

oh, the goodies that await us!

oh, the goodies that await us!

I almost don’t know where to begin, and if you’ve ever been to such an event, you understand. Rhinebeck is huge – overwhelmingly so – sprawling across the entire Dutchess County Fairgrounds. We watched sheepdog herding demonstrations. We ogled and fondled SO MUCH yarn and fiber. We wine-tasted and ate festival food. We petted and photographed as many wool-bearing creatures as is humanly possible.


We did our best, in other words, but agreed that there isn’t any possible way that you can see the entire festival, even if you attend both days.

There were also two not-so-small problems. The first:



We knew it would be crowded. Outdoors, like pictured here, it was bustling and busy, but pleasant. Indoors, in the exhibit and vendor buildings, was different altogether. Twice, I put potential purchases back because getting to the register was ridiculous. One building, we couldn’t even get five feet past the door. Others, we didn’t even try. People were also, as they are pretty much everywhere now, assholes: pushing, dicking around on cellphones and obliviously walking into you, monopolizing cashiers with private conversations so other people can’t pay for things, walking through photos as you’re taking them.

The second problem: despite our preparations for the forecast temperature, neither of us was dressed for the piercing, cold wind that accompanied it.

Still, those downsides could not prevent this.

the collective haul!


I behaved myself pretty well, considering: my part of that damage is the 3 yarns + one roving in the front, as well as the set of buttons, 3 goat-milk soaps, and a bottle of delicious chipotle hot sauce. I undoubtedly could have bought triple that, but I’ve become practical in my “old age” – the little voice on my shoulder, instead of whispering to buy that!, was reminding me that I barely have time to knit anymore (and that I just spent $250 getting to New York).



Anyway, we had a great time; Rhinebeck is fun, and definitely an experience. But we agreed that we aren’t likely to do it again. You can buy nice yarn on Etsy, without the crowds, you know?

After Rhinebeck, no rest for the weary (or the sore): Sunday was a birthday party for my stepdad, a busy day full of family, friends, and lots of food. And, because I can’t escape work even while on vacation, a couple hours of grading papers and quizzes – with assistants, of course.


Monday morning, it was time to pack up and head back east, my all-too-short visit finished already (and so many things we’d planned to do left undone). My little friend Leeloo tried her best to convince me to stay.


aren’t i cute? shouldn’t you stay here and pet my soft, squishy belly?

It was to no avail, however, because more adventures await. Onward to Part II…!