Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Holiday Letter 2003

(The much-awaited annual letter from the Plamondon household...)

Another year has come and gone. Doesn't it seem unfair that time speeds up the older we get? That this is coming to you as a New Year's greeting--rather than a Christmas letter--should give some idea how far behind I am...

Things here seem to go on the same from year to year. Denny is still spending two weeks each month working in Cold Bay and points west, while I hold down the fort. Or maybe that should be "hold down the cat house..." Between work and caring for the house and its inhabitants, I keep pretty busy. Maybe that's the secret to happiness--every life has it's hills and valleys, but we can't complain. If the past year was a busy one, we still found time to enjoy some perfect summer days and spend some time out on the water. Though not necessarily at the same time. Our gorgeous summer was interrupted for one week of wind and rain in August. Coincidentally at the same time my brother and nephew were visiting from Ohio. Doesn't it figure?

Thus far the winter has given us a bit of everything from zero-degree mornings to blizzards. Thus far this week it has gone from clear and near-zero to 45-degrees and rain and back to snow, with occasional forty-knot winds. At least the weather keeps life exciting.

In October I got my 20-year pin from the FAA. I still owe Uncle Sam a year and some odd months, so I am not ready to make my habitual laziness a life style just yet. Denny has another four or five years to go, so I may wait until he is close to retiring before I quit. I need something to get me out of the house...

Speaking of twenty years, this year was the twentieth for Denny and I. In some ways, the time has gone by fast--and in others, it feels as if we have always been together and that I have only faint memories of life before Dennis. It has been fun and interesting.

In family news this year, my Mom was diagnosed with a heart condition. What she thought was the flu in May never quite left her and she had grown so weak by August that she had to cut short her vacation in Valdez with Dad and my brother David. In September, after the family nagged her into seeing a doctor, it was discovered that she was in fact in heart failure. A pacemaker was implanted in September and two stints put in place at the start of December. Three days before Christmas, she was medevaced to Anchorage with suspected heart attacks, and the family spent a tense night until the doctors determined that her heart and assorted appliances were in fact working as expected (which was reassuring to hear) and her symptoms
were due to some unrelated problems. She got medical attention for those and was back in Fairbanks on Christmas Day.

Dennis was supposed to go out to Cold Bay on the 23rd after a week at home, but while Mom was in the hospital, he decided he needed to stay close to home. So one benefit from the whole incident was that he was able to be home for Christmas. I pretty much concentrated on spending time with him while he was home. I cooked Christmas dinner for us on Christmas Eve (I had to work Christmas afternoon) and we enjoyed the time together. Since we got considerable snowfall last week, it was nice that he was home to keep the driveway clear and the vehicles in prime running condition. He went back out to Cold Bay on Saturday.

As our cats grow older gracefully, it is inevitable that we have to say farewell to one or two each year. We lost Rosie in February after a long and mysterious decline. She had been with us for five years, which was long enough to smooth away the memories of her previous bad home. Knowing that she had been happy with us gives us some comfort, but it was hard to let her go. Even harder was losing our Little Black Newt after fifteen years. She had been the second cat we acquired after we moved to Homer and had grown up with our home. She leaves a lot of good memories--and a hole in our hearts--behind her.

Still, we ended 2003 with a net gain in the feline department--not really a matter of our own choosing but what are we going to do? Sunspot and Toby John were older cats (14+ years) that had no chance of finding homes when they were dumped at the Animal Shelter--their owner had decided she no longer had time for them. We decided we could spare a little time and space for these two veterans.

The kittens--Lola and Clarence--were more a matter of happenstance than our own choosing. In August we discovered the little, abandoned tortoiseshell we had fed through last winter had kittens--four of them. We trapped them--and her--and her mate for good measure. The adults were neutered and the kittens went to the Animal Shelter. Momma turned out to be very friendly and very young. We found her a home with friends in Cold Bay. Daddy was seriously feral and wanted nothing to do with humans, so we let him go back into our yard. He lives on our property and eats on the porch, which seems to be the best that we can do for him. Two of the kittens went to new homes in Kodiak, and the other two came back home--to be "socialized", officially, but frankly, they are here to stay.

In my defense--Denny brought more vehicles home this year than I did cats...

Yep, he hit it big at the State vehicle auction--scoring two Crown Victorias (retired police cars), a nice Suburban with automatic transmission, and a two-wheel drive Chevy pickup. He also got a One-Ton Ford pickup in bright State Orange with a utility body. Then there is the 1953 6x4 International tow truck in army colors that came from Cold Bay on the ferry. So we have a deal--I don't say anything about the vehicles and he doesn't complain about the cats...

Actually, I really enjoy driving the Crown Vics around. It is a change of pace from the usual pickup truck.

Well, I will close for now with our wishes for that the best in life may come your way in 2004. You are often in our thoughts across the miles. Have happy holidays and enjoy yourself in the coming year...

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Surrounded By Cats On A Snowy Evening

(With Apologies to Robert Frost)


Whose cats these are, I think they know,
Who saved them from last winter's snow,
Who took them in and kept them near,
Who fed them, groomed them, watched them grow.

Our friends all thought it rather queer
To take in strays, and voiced the fear
That allergies and such would make
Us rue the day throughout the year.

It hasn't turned out a mistake
Though on occasion things *do* break,
And cat fur, difficult to sweep,
Clogs the Hoover's small intake.

They lie around us, heap by heap.
Outside the snow again is deep.
Inside, we've promises to keep
And cats to feed before we sleep.

--Sondra Rosenberg

(used with the kind permission of the author)

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Christmas Eve

Denny and I aren't much on gifts at Christmas time. I don't know if it is because we feel having each other is gift enough or that we tend to buy each other things during the year as the spirit moves us. Usually I buy the cats a few things and call it good.

I went out yesterday and bought the cats a big pet bed--a pillow that would sleep a Golden Retriever in comfort, and tossed it on the floor in front of the woodstove. In less than fifteen minutes, three cats were sharing it. I also bought Toby a new litter box. Actually, it is a ten gallon Rubbermaid tote. Toby is large and long-bodied and had been having trouble confining his--ah--efforts to the inside of the litter box he previously used. This one is much more spacious and I hope will solve his problem.

I bought Denny and I some DVDs but we opened and watched them as soon as he got back from Florida last week.

Homer has gotten clobbered with snow over the past few days, so after I got home from shopping yesterday, Denny loaded the snow-blower in the Dodge and we went down to cousin Sue's place to clear out her drive and parking area. The amount of snow has been an inconvenience but the homes and lights of Homer sure look pretty and Christmas-y all swathed in white.

We ended up staying to watch a video and ordered in pizza and had a bit of a party, the three of us. It was fun.

I have to work tomorrow afternoon and evening, so today, after I got home from the Shelter, I cooked a turkey and two kinds of stuffing and a green bean casserole. That, along with a salad and pumpkin cheesecake, made our holiday feast. We fell asleep feeling well-satisfied.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

It was another of those nights where I drifted between sleep and wakefulness, wondering what was happening in Anchorage. The small hours of the night... I tried distracting myself by watching the documentaries on "The Two Towers" DVD while Denny dozed beside me.

He was awake before me and brought me coffee when I finally swam to the surface. We watched the morning news while wondering when it might be a good time to call Providence. I finally called about eight-thirty and fretted during the long delay between asking for my Mom's room and getting an answer. The nurse came back on the line to say that she was in the Catheterization Lab. I took that as a good sign--at least she wasn't in surgery.

An hour or so later, Dad called to update us. It turns out that the pacemaker and the stints are working just as they should and the pain Mom has been experiencing was not her heart.

(big sigh of relief...) Now--perhaps-- we can try to enjoy the holidays.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Winter

It has been snowing and blowing since yesterday.

Just about the time that the last daylight had faded and I turned on the airport beacon, Denny called to tell me that Dad and Mom were in Anchorage--they had to medievac Mom to Providence Hospital again. I don't have much information right now and am walking in circles in the Flight Service Station, looking out at the snow-darkened night and wondering what I should do.

Denny is *supposed* to fly to Cold Bay tomorrow--he is hours away from leaving home to drive up the road to Anchorage. This close to the holidays, flying into or out of any of the smaller towns is problematic so if he went and needed to come back home in a hurry, it wouldn't be possible. He is asking if he should stay until we have some idea what the situation with Mom is--or go. and I don't know the answer. I want to be in Anchorage to see my parents, to know what is going on--but I don't want to fly or drive in this weather.

Everything is up in the air tonight.


***

We stood in the kitchen talking over the possibilities after I got home from work, and decided that Denny will take a few days of leave and stay home until we know just how serious the situation with Mom is.

I knew it was the right decision from the feeling of relief I felt once it was made.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Nox Longissima

Stella Clarissima
Nox longissima
Caeli enarrant
Gloriam Dei...


It has been snowing heavily since before sunset--dry, fine flakes that shroud the earth and muffle light. With the visibility down to a mile, it is dark outside, the distant world cut off. Shortly after I get home from work tonight, the solstice will pass--the moment when our planet stops in its flight away from the sun, the crest of the arc, the moment's pause before we start the long fall back toward summer. I will pour a glass of wine and stand outside in the silently falling snow, waiting to feel some pulse through my bones to telegraph the moment that the Earth passes that invisible point in its orbit that makes the return of summer, so distant, inevitable.

The longest night is here...

This is surely the oldest of human holidays--and every winter celebration traces its roots to this point of potential.

"Tell me your dreams...in the time of Winter."

Saturday, December 20, 2003

10 inches of snow on the ground

Friday, December 19, 2003

Good-Bye

We all come from the Goddess
And to Her we shall return
Like a drop of rain
Flows into the ocean...


We buried Newt this today, under the pale light of mid-winter morning.

It brings me a measure of peace to have her safely put away into the dark womb of Earth. Until the last sad act was completed, her dying was unfinished and raw. Now she sleeps under the snow with Sparky and Rosie and Toby and too many others.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

The Kittens

We took the kittens into be spayed/neutered yesterday. Being young and healthy, they came through the ordeal as well as can be expected. I just hate the thought of the pain they endure. Veterinary science still hasn't come far enough--in my opinion--toward the treatment of pain.

We brought the groggy little buggers home and shut ourselves in the bedroom with them--watching videos as they slept off the anesthetics. We hope the enforced intimacy, the comforting, will help overcome their residual wildness. They *did* lay on me in weary little heaps most of the afternoon and evening, so perhaps they are starting to realize we aren't quite as fearsome as they have thought.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Comfort

It is good to have Denny back home. In the darkness of winter, he is warmth and comfort.

We are wrapping ourselves in softness. Thanks to sales at the warehouse store, we have bought flannel sheets and flannel lounging pants and big, thick socks for our feet. Denny brought home some sheepskin slippers from Florida so I feel like I am walking on clouds. The wood stove fills the house with a radiant warmth--captured sunlight from summers long past. We snuggle into our soft bed, surrounded by our cats, and dreams the long nights away.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Tree Wraiths

The kittens are having way too much fun with the Christmas trees. The Toe Wraiths have morphed into Tree Wraiths...

After clearing a space and setting up my brand new, pre-lighted $150 tree upstairs, I quickly reconsidered when I couldn't keep the kittens out of it. They found the novelty just too interesting to leave aone and I had visions of the little demons clawing or chewing through a wire and ruining the whole tree--and themselves.

So, in a flash of inspiration, I moved the new tree downstairs and set up the old tree upstairs, thinking to distract them from one novelty with another. Silly me--why would they settle for one novelty when they could have two?

I left both trees undecorated for a while in the hope that they would lose their novelty over time. That never happened, so I ended up putting non-breakable decorations on the upstairs tree and break-resistant things on the one downstairs. They enthusiastically remove glass icicles and beads from the tree upstairs and use the one in the dining room to get up to and down from the window sill. I am bending the branches back into position daily. Still, I have the hope that next year this time--as sober adults--they will confine themselves to sleeping underneath.

We shall see.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

28 degrees
Snow began about 8 am, heavy by 9 am.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

I had a call from Mom this morning. They are back in Fairbanks.

She was released from the hospital on Thursday and spent Friday at Providence House, just for observation, before being cleared to go home. All the Fairbanks-bound flights were booked except for the early one this morning, so they had to get up at four-thirty in go to the airport.

So, she was home resting in her chair with her dog nearby as the sun was just rising on a cold Interior day. That has to beat lying in a telemetry bed in the CCU in Anchorage. I know I feel a bit more secure in knowing she is back where she belongs.

Friday, December 05, 2003

18 degrees
6 inches of snow on the ground
Clear skies

Thursday, December 04, 2003

36 degrees
10 inches of wet snow on the ground

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Update

34 degrees
14 inches of wet snow on the ground
Very windy with rain


What a long night.

I waffled last night over jumping a flight to Anchorage. If the worst happened, Dad would need me. Joanne had called to assure me that if I needed to go north for any reason (so much is left unsaid) they would take care of the cats. I wandered around the house, filling water dishes and topping off dry cat food, trying to decide what to do.

Not to decide is to decide, however, and the late news sealed my immobility, with blizzard conditions forecast to be moving into southcentral Alaska by morning. Not a day to be jumping any flights anywhere.

I went to bed and slept fitfully with much tossing and turning. The sound of the wind outside confirmed the deteriorating weather. I pitched between sleep and wakefulness, waiting for the phone to ring...dreading that it might. Was she in Anchorage yet? Were they going to go right into surgery or wait until morning?

***

About nine or so, the phone finally rang. It was Dad. They had decided to a heart catheterization on Mom before resorting to surgery, and located two blocked arteries which they restored with stints. The major blockage that they found in September is too large to be remedied with a stint but they are trying medication in the hope it may help dissolve or lessen the blockage.

Bottom line--no surgery. Dad said the doctors were very pleased with the results they got from the procedure this morning and that Mom was looking good.

So...it would seem another crisis has been averted.

All this sure isn't doing *my* heart any good. I spent last night wondering if I was still going to have a Mommy come daylight.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Heart

Zero degrees
9 inches of snow on the ground


So, when I called KBBI yesterday afternoon to find out where the pet-loss support group was meeting, I discovered I had heard wrong--the group meets on Thursday evenings. Which explains why I have never attended though I certainly have enough grief credentials... I work every Thursday evening.

So I guess I just have to work through this on my own. It would be easier if Denny were home. I would have someone to talk to about it, someone who feels her loss like I do.

He will be home in a week-and-a-half.

I had a list of things to do after work on Monday, and surprisingly, I got them all done before coming home, bribing the cats with food and falling into bed. I made myself get up by six-thirty and did chores, loaded the dishwasher, brought in wood for the fire, cleaned litterboxes, etc.

I got up today with every ambition of getting a lot done around the house. Just like every Tuesday. I was sitting at the computer, checking my email, when the phone rang. It was Dad.

Mom was in the hospital in Fairbanks. She had gone to see her doctor this morning and he sent her right to the ER. She had apparently had a mild heart attack over the weekend--her pacemaker saved her--and blocked arteries in her heart were causing quite a bit of stress on the muscle. They were going to try to stabilize her in Fairbanks and see if they could reduce the stress. If not, they would medievac her to Anchorage with the possibility of her having bypass surgery.

Dad sounded rather breathless but composed and he asked me to notify family and friends of the situation, so I sent out emails and left phone messages and kept telling myself that she is in a lot better shape now than she was in September.

It is my own sense of security that is fragile.

* * * *

Dad called a little while ago to say that they are medievacing Mom to Anchorage. Considering that he was at home grabbing a few things before rushing off to the flight, he sounded pretty good. A few minutes after I got off the phone with him, Richard called to tell me the same thing. He said they were praying for Mom.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Grief

9 inches of snow on the ground


The intensity of my grief over Newt's passing still grips me.

I can't seem to stop crying. I don't mean that I am constantly weeping, but several times a day the memories flood over me and I find tears runing down my face. There is a good cry in me that need to come out but there is no place for me to do it. Bawling my eyes out at work is problematic. I am racked with sobs driving to and from town but have to maintain some measure of control for safety reasons. As for letting loose at home--well--

The other day I was out in the shop holding Johnny when the memories grew too intense and I started crying. Almost immediately, I was surrounded by sympathetic, concerned cats. It was heart-warming in its way but reminded me that the cats are sensitive to my moods. I don't want to distress them with my grief.

I joined a Yahoo pet loss support group last week but when I logged in to talk about all this, I found them embroiled in a flame-war regarding religion. So that wasn't a safe place to expose my raw emotions.

I keep thinking of how limp she in my arms at the end. How her resolute little heart wouldn't stop beating but kept ticking away like a pulsar in the heart of a black hole. Her body was so weary but her valiant spirit kept on.

The little twitch of her whiskers when her heart finally stopped...

It sounds morbid but it was hard for me to relinquish her body. I know it is just the husk of her earthly form. I know she is gone. But even after I had her wrapped and zipped in the body bag, I found myself holding the bundle, drawing some comfort from the familiar shape of her curled form in my hands. Such a precious, loved little package she made--so many memories and so much grief wrapped up in that parcel.

Only when the faint but unmistakeable odor of decay became evident could I bring myself to put her outside in the shed where the cold will keep her until we can bury her properly.

***

I caught the end of an announcement on the radio this morning about a pet loss support group meeting this evening. I just have to find out where. That seems like it could be the place where I can finally abandon myself to my sorrow.