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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Caring For A Sick Cat

I'm so sad to say that our talkative, affectionate, mouse-slaying cat Laila may be approaching the end of her life.  We adopted her as an older kitty a couple years ago; the animal shelter estimated her age to be 10 years, which would make her 12 now.  Some time ago, our vet told us he thought she was a couple years older, judging by the evidence of kidney disease in her blood work.  He warned us that she would eventually get to the point of being very lethargic, and that we would have to give her subcutaneous fluids.  This time has come.

It seemed to come on suddenly.  When we left to spend Christmas with my family in NC, she seemed to be fine, although in retrospect, I think I can see the lethargy was starting to set in.  The biggest clue we got that something might be wrong was that our pet sitter mentioned that Laila was leaving a lot of food in her bowl.  I assumed she was just out of sorts because we were away.  But when we came back, she still ate very little.

We already had a vet appointment scheduled for her annual rabies vaccine, which our vet urged us to hold off on.  The news from that appointment was that she had lost a lot of weight, and that she would potentially benefit from receiving regular doses of subcutaneous fluids. 

Giving subcutaneous fluids is supposed to be a relatively simple task--simple enough that vets trust pet owners to be at least somewhat successful when given instruction.  And it seemed simple enough in the vet's office.  The first time we tried at home was a comedy of errors, though.  Laila tensed her muscles (as I supposed anyone would when being approached by a needle wielded by someone who doesn't know what she's doing), making it difficult to grab a pouch of loose skin.  Then the needle kept not being in all the way, causing the fluids to leak all over her fur.  At one point, she got away entirely, and fluid shot through the needle into the air.  The process has improved somewhat since then, although we're definitely on the clock with it.  The needle itself doesn't seem to bother Laila much, but the feeling of fluid going in under her skin must be pretty strange, and she always reaches a point when she just tries to walk away.

Then there has been the issue of trying to get her to eat.  I've tried all kinds of things--cheap cat food, expensive cat food, tinned fish, boiled chicken livers.  From day to day, there is no telling what she'll want to eat. 

There has also been the issue of her wobbliness and clumsiness.  She's always been a bit wobbly, but she has become noticeably more so lately.  She also alarms us by tumbling to the floor when trying to jump on things.

I've had a long winter break, so I've gotten to spend a lot of time with Laila, following her around to make sure she doesn't hurt herself and making her several meals per day to try to cajole her to eat.  I don't know what will happen when my semester starts and I become insanely busy again.  I also don't know what her latest round of blood work from yesterday's vet appointment will tell us.  I'm glad I've had this time with her.  She's been a wonderful companion, and I want her to feel like she's had a friend as the end of her life approaches.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Grad School As A "Nontraditional" Student: First Semester Review

I've written here before about my educational (mis)adventures.  To recap, I started taking evening and online classes when I was working for an employer that provided tuition remission.  In August, I left that job and started a full-time graduate program in speech-language pathology.  I successfully completed my first of five semesters in December, and I'll go back for my second semester next week.  Before doing that, I thought it would be interesting (and potentially useful to other people who are considering going back to school) to write about some of my impressions.

Favorite part:  My program, like many, starts students in clinic first semester.  My weekly clients were hands down the best part of the program.  I looked forward to seeing them and was thrilled when I saw their progress.  I also felt like I learned a lot in this process--when you see the same clients every week, you have a chance to reflect on what went well in a session and what needs improvement.  Then you can adjust accordingly.  In spite of the various ways I'm unhappy with the grad school experience, the fact that I enjoyed my clients so much makes me cautiously optimistic that I'm making a good career change for me.

Least favorite part:  Barely having a spare moment to myself all semester.  I spent two years taking classes on top of working a full-time job.  It never occurred to me that I would be busier as "just" a student, but I was, by quite a lot.  Getting to spend time with friends took great feats of planning.  Hobbies were put on hold, as I worked through most evenings and weekends.  The worst part was mid-semester when I caught a monster cold that hung on for weeks.  I started to feel very nostalgic for sick leave at that point.  I only took one full day off from school during that time, and I spent nearly the whole day working from home when what I really needed was sleep.  Was all this work necessary or helpful to the learning experience?  Absolutely not.  Unfortunately, some of the architects of this program seem to believe that misery in grad school is a rite of passage we all have to go through.

Best thing about being a nontraditional student:  Years of "adulting" have given me very good time management skills.  Unlike many of my younger classmates, I pulled zero all-nighters all semester (and I don't intend to pull any in subsequent semesters). 

Worst thing about being a nontraditional student:  I miss income.  I miss free time after coming home from work.  I miss being around people closer to my own age.  I miss feeling competent in a career, instead of feeling like I'm starting out at the bottom again.  All of these adjustments have been harder than I anticipated.

Advice to other nontraditional students:  I chose my program because they offered me funding.  This might still prove to be the correct decision--after all, who wants to pay more in tuition than they have to?  And in the end, it's always easier to see the problems where you are than the problems you would have faced somewhere else.

However, for people who find themselves deciding between two or more funding packages (or people comparing two or more programs with roughly equivalent tuition), here are some things to consider:  Which program typically has more nontraditional students?  You might have an easier time making friends with fellow students whose lives are more like yours.  Also, programs with more nontraditional students may do a better job scheduling classes to be convenient for people who aren't 22 and living on campus (I'm thinking grumpily about the number of evening classes I'll have next semester, in addition to two Saturday all-day sessions.  Grrr.).  Also, this may sound obvious, but think about what the program specializes in.  I'm going to be deliberately vague here, but my program has a specialty that I certainly don't object to, but that I'm also not planning to incorporate heavily into my future career.  I figured I could put up with it for the sake of receiving funding.  And again, that may prove to be the best decision in the end...but at the moment, I feel like something I'll probably never use again is taking up an awful lot of my time. 

One semester down, four to go! 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Shutdown

When Scott and I took a walk on the National Mall yesterday, I noticed something interesting:  numerous kites stuck in trees. 

Maybe they've always been there.  Maybe the bare trees of winter showcase kites to their best advantage.  But the first thought that occurred to me was that maybe the person or people who ordinarily remove kites from trees are not currently working due to the government shutdown.

In an area where I'm spoiled for choices in activities, quite a few options are closed right now, namely the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo.  At this point, even the public restrooms on the National Mall are closed.

I feel terrible for the people who are either having to hold out waiting for back pay or who likely will never get paid at all for the duration of this shutdown.  As someone who has worked both for the federal government and for a center that relied heavily on government contracts, I feel I can imagine the worries some people have right now.  It's not easy to have your livelihood in the hands of people who don't care and are happy to make you a pawn in their power struggles.  I'm sure for anyone who knows me, it will come as no surprise that I'm against the border wall, and have been since the first time I heard the idea.  Giving financial insecurity to countless federal employees and contractors is not making me warm up to it.

At this point, it's hard to see when or how this shutdown will end.  I hope it will be before this already bad situation becomes financially ruinous for too many people.

Friday, January 4, 2019

North Carolina Beach Pictures, December 2019

We went to North Carolina for Christmas, and made our usual trek to the North Carolina coast.  It really is the perfect time of year to visit the beach--no crowds and no sunburns!  Here are a few pictures from the trip.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

12 Days Of Cheese

Out of all of the holiday sales and specials that we have to choose from, the one I'm most excited about these days is the 12 Days of Cheese at Whole Foods.  I'm not sure when they started it, but I became aware of it a couple years ago, and I've eagerly anticipated it each December since then.

For the uninitiated, the 12 Days of Cheese is when Whole Foods marks a different cheese 50% off for twelve days.  They distribute a cheese schedule ahead of time, so you know what you'll find each day.  Like all sales, I'm sure the intent is just to get people in the store with the hopes that they will buy more than just the cheese...but you get to decide that!

In years past, at least in the Whole Foods near me, you had to search for the half price cheese.  This year, they displaced the half price cheeses prominently.  The good part of this was that I spent less time looking for them; the bad part was that a couple days when I went to Whole Foods, they had sold out of the half price cheese.  I decided that on days when I was really interested in the half price cheese, I needed to go there early to make sure I could get it.  Fortunately for me, by the time the 12 Days of Cheese rolled around this year, my semester was winding down, so I had more free time to go on cheese runs.

This year, I managed to buy cheese on 6 of the 12 days.  This might seem like an excessive amount of cheese for two people, but (a) you can buy small amounts of some of the cheeses, (b) most cheese lasts a while in the fridge, and (c) for me, there is no such thing as an excessive amount of cheese.  Every year for New Year's Eve, I make an appetizer dinner, and I was very happy to have pre-bought all the cheese I wanted for it.  "Fancy" cheese is one of my vices at the moment, and I'm happy to be able to combine it with my love of bargains.