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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Continuing Story: Elsa Clair and Calvin Come to Live with Us

A few weeks ago, I introduced our two new kittens, Elsa Clair and Calvin. Unfortunately, the Part II of my story got interrupted by a little ol' hurricane named Sandy (which you can read about in Stormy Weather and Sandy's Aftermath.) That was followed by Snowstorm Athena (Stay tuned for that entry, still to be written).

We now return to our story...
Elsa Clair


Tiny black and white balls of fluff and fur, the two kitties traveled in style to their new home from the vet clinic where I had adopted them, riding in one of our cat carriers.  Having done the research on how to introduce kittens to the current four-legged inhabitants of our house, I whisked the babies up the stairs and brought them right into the bathroom safe room I had prepared for them.

In the bathroom were a litter box, some toys, a blanket, a soft, circular bed and a curved floor scratcher. I opened the door of the crate and two curious faces peered out. Within seconds, the two Adorables tumbled into my home.

Calvin and Elsa Clair on the cat scratcher. They slept on it as if it was a bed.

I left them there to adjust and brought the crate downstairs for all the other creatures to investigate. Which they did. Quite thoroughly.

Athena inspects the crate. It smells like Kitten!

I spent lots of time with all the other creatures with whom I share my home: the dogs, Lilah, Jasper and Tucker, and the cats, Dawn and Athena. I left the kittens to get used to their new surroundings, checking in with them periodically to pet them and snuggle them and to feed them and get them settled for the night.

Calvin and Elsa Clair snuggling together and getting used to their surroundings.

I hadn’t named them yet, so I began to ponder some ideas. I had picked out names for the original pair of kitties. (If you missed it, read my last post where you can find about the kittens I thought I was adopting.) The male was going to be Max, as he reminded me of the troublemaker Max in the book Where the Wild Things are by Maurice Sendak. And the girl cat just seemed like a Chessie, named after the kitty logo for the shipping companyChessie Systems.  Those names belonged to the other cats as far as I was concerned, and I had to start all over.

The tiny girl kitty that came home was so thin and delicate; holding her felt like you were holding a bird in your hands; you could feel her ribs, and she was so, so light.  I starting thinking of black and white birds like the magpie (I could call her Maggie!). As for the boy: nothing. No ideas. I came up blank.

In conversations with my daughter, I was describing the new kittens and talking about black and white birds. I told her about Maggie. Another option I said was Adelie, like the penguin. But the cat was so thin, she didn’t look chubby like a penguin and that name just didn’t fit.  And that’s when Corinne’s boyfriend Luke said, “You should name her Claire.”

Ah yes, the character Claire from the TV show Lost (that Corinne refers to as the “TV Show That Must Not Be Named” because she was so angry at the cop-out ending).  In one of the early episodes of the series, when strange animals like polar bears began appearing out of nowhere, I was convinced that there was a penguin in the rustling bushes of the jungle. Turned out it was Claire. Thus, our new cat was not a penguin, so she should be Claire.

Sounded right. I said I’d think about it, try it out.

But the next morning I had other issues to deal with; I woke up to find nasty messes all over the safe room floor, and it didn’t take long to realize that the little girl kitty was sick.

Very sick. Not eating. Diarrhea. Hunched over. Lethargic.

She hadn’t been home 24 hours, and  before I knew it, she was on  her way to the emergency animal hospital.

As I signed her in, they asked me her name. Tears welled up in my eyes and I said, “She doesn’t even have an official name yet.” I wrote down Claire, not feeling right about it, but needing to put something.

Here’s something you learn when you are at the emergency clinic—whether it’s for a human or a pet. Time can go backwards. Or slow to stopping. For months—or an hour and a half—I watched little Maybe Claire breathe and purr. And even though I barely knew her then, I just kept willing her to be okay. She was too small, too tiny to be so ill. The vets admitted her to the clinic where they assessed her condition and gave her fluids.

The rest of the weekend passed in a blur. Eventually, I brought little boy cat (still un-named) to the emergency vet, where I picked up Maybe Claire and brought them both back to the original vet where I had adopted them. There, she was nursed back to health, with her brother to keep her company. We went to visit them on a Sunday morning, bringing a bed and blanket from home so the kittens would have some familiar smells when they finally came back to live with us.

Finally, on Tuesday evening, after tests and xrays and lots of special food and tons of love, the kitties came home. (The vet didn’t charge me a nickel for their care; they were only focused on making everyone well, and felt so bad that Maybe Claire had gotten so sick.)           

On the way to the vet to pick them up, I was inspired.  The boy cat had a mask that reminded me of Calvin, from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. The comic character Calvin would dress up as Stupendous Man, with a mask and cape. Thus our little kitty became Calvin, Stupendous Cat.

Calvin, Stupendous Cat on a jar of sea glass that we use to prop the door open.

And I had become increasingly unhappy with Claire as a name for our thin little girl. The Claire of Lost was whiny, and disappears during the TV series, and maybe dies. (Sorry for any spoilers!)  I needed a replacement name, one that felt stronger. I suddenly remembered the lioness Elsa, from the book and movie Born Free. Elsa was the first lion raised by humans but taught to live in the wild.  She was a strong, loving character. Sold! But somehow, it didn’t seem right enough.  

When I had first considered Claire, I had looked the name up online. Claire—or more specifically Clair—means “light” in French. Think of the orchestral piece Clair de Lune (moonlight) by Claude Debussy

Elsa Clair on the same jar.

And then I realized. My strong little kitty, who fought off her illness, deserved two names. It just seemed right. Take off the “e” in Clair so she’s not quite named after the character, but more after “light,” and combine it with Elsa and there you have it: Elsa Clair. Perfect. I hear the name with a southern accent: “Elsa Clair, what are you doing up there? “Elsa Clair, leave that alone!”
As for Elsa Clair’s health? My best guess is that our little girl had picked up some little intestinal bug. I think she was thin to begin with; perhaps her three brothers bullied her a little around the food bowl? After she was all better and settled back home, both Calvin and one of the big cats got sick, too, though they both recovered within a day.

Today, Elsa Clair and Calvin are healthy and energetic. Calvin outweighs Elsa Clair by quite a bit, but she makes it up for it with the spunk and Don’t Mess With Me of a lioness.

And I couldn’t imagine having any other cats. These little furry fuzzheads crawled into my arms and my heart within minutes of my meeting them. They so obviously chose me. And so obviously were meant to be part of my family.

It was simply Meant To Be.

It's a big world out there. In a future post, I'll write about how the kittens and the other four-legged family members met each other and learned to get along.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sandy's Aftermath (Part II)

In my last post, I wrote about Hurricane Sandy, and how the various inhabitants here on the mountaintop weathered the storm.

We had made it through the night as Sandy come through New Jersey. We lost  power at about 7:30 pm, but our generator kicked in and we were able to keep some lights on, and the house stayed warm.

The next morning, the winds were still going, but had settled in to a lighter roar. My neighborhood was truly a mess. Trees were down everywhere, taking power lines and transformers with them, and creating tangled webs of dangerous wires. Some trees landed on houses and some crashed down with their branches just brushing the siding or barely missing cars.

We were very lucky. Our home was barely touched. Here, Jasper and Tucker inspect some of the damage to my potted plants. Did I say we were lucky? Yes, I did.

After the storm. Jasper sits under the relatively safety of the tree. There he's safe from wet grass that might moisten his toes.

I took a walk through the woods behind our home. It was amazing to see the number--and the size--of the trees that had been blown down. I would guess that within a five minute walk diameter of my home, there had to have been at least 50 trees toppled by Mother Nature. And I'm not talking about your 6-inch trunks. Think more like decades-old trees one- to two-feet wide. Dozens of feet tall--the kind that tower over homes in this heavily forested neighborhood.

Sometimes trees were simply broken, like this small one. It's hard to imagine the power that snapped this 8-inch trunk like it was a toothpick.
Some trees that were knocked down by the power of the winds were huge, like this one.

The park behind our house had paths with markers on the trees. Here, the blue trail (notice the blue marker on one of the fallen trunks) is blocked by fallen trees.

Looking at the uprooted trees, you could almost hear the groans they must have made as they were falling.

One look and you knew it was going to be a Very Long Time before people had power again.

Neighbors on either side of me had trees down--one blocked a driveway. The neighbor on our right side, Anne, was okay, so together we went and checked on our elderly neighbors across the street. Luck or something must have smiled on them because four huge trees had come down in their yard, just missing their home and their cars.

Our next-door neighbor; a large pine tree fell across their driveway.

As this tree blew over, in another neighbor's yard, it took with it metal stripping that had lined their paved driveway.

Our neighbors across the street were actually lucky. None of trees that came down in their yard hit their house or their cars.

Some pieces from our roof wound up in our yard, as did shingles from my neighbor's roof. Here is one of the pieces wrapped around a tree.

Brian and I offered up our home to anyone who needed a place to stay or to get warm or to power up their electronic devices. We shared stories of what we heard on the radio, since we had no TV, no internet, no landline phones.

If we thought the devastation was real and scary in our little neck of the woods, it was even worse and more horrific elsewhere. Areas of New York were flooded--not just the beachy areas, but Queens, the Rockaways, lower Manhattan. Manhattan under water? This is the stuff of disaster movies, not reality. The Jersey shore of my youth--where I took my kids to play in the sand and stroll the boardwalks and play on the amusement park rides--has been devastated. In some places demolished.

One picture that I saw that stays in my mind shows the roller coaster from the Seaside boardwalk--in the ocean. The pier where the roller coaster was is no more. It's gone.

People lost their homes, their lives. The flooding from the high tide and the driving wind was unprecedented. And even though the forecasters said it was going to be bad, I don't think they could  have predicted the enormity of it.

Fast forward to two weeks later. Though believe me, the time did not go by fast. It took us days before we could travel off the mountain. There was only one road open for most of the first week. Streets were blocked not just by trees, but by downed wires. Two weeks later and some of my friends and family still did not have power.

It's a labor-intensive process to put the power back on; every tree has to be taken apart carefully, with the PSE&G (Public Service Electric & Gas, our power company) supervising and approving to make sure no wires are live. And once the trees are cleaned up, they need to make sure everything is connected before they turn the grid section back on. Assuming the substations haven't been flooded or transformers blown, which was the case in many areas of our town and our state.

The street we live on looked like this every few hundred yards. It took many days before the roads were all cleared in our neighborhood.

Sometimes they have to turn power off for one area in order to restore power to others. Our electricity has gone down four times since the storm. (Admittedly, that includes power lost due to the snowy nor'easter named Athena that hit our area a little over a week after Sandy. But that's a story for another post.)

At one point, we lost power again, and our generator didn't kick in like it was supposed to. When Brian got it to function, it started making weird noises. Afraid that something would explode, we shut it off for the night until we could find out if it was safe. By morning, I was wearing a hat and coat and scarf and blanket--and was very happy that Tucker and Jasper wanted to snuggle with me.

The whole situation is more than one state can handle. 2.8 million customers lost power in this storm. I've heard it reported that trucks from 36 states across the U.S. have been driven or flown to New Jersey.

The church parking lot about a mile from us became a staging area for out-of-state utility workers. These folks were from Missouri.

A common sight. Notice the transformers on the ground. Thousands of transformers were lost from Sandy.

I grew up in a Philadelphia suburb where Asplundh was a familiar tree service company. Their distinctive orange trucks were easily identifiable. It was a little weird seeing them here in New Jersey.

JCP&L (the other power company in the state) reported several days ago that they had removed 45,000 trees just to get to power lines. Now, I'm no statistician, but JCP&L served about 2/3 of the customers that were affected. If that many trees had to be cut up and removed by just them--and they weren't even halfway through the fix-up--and at most maybe 1 in 10 trees knocked down took out wires, I think I could safely say that NJ lost a million trees in the storm. At least. Ouch.

Repeat this scene over and over again and you can begin to have a picture of what it was like across New Jersey.

With power gone, and thousands of people using gas generators, and gas stations with no electricity and the entire gas supply chain knocked out in myriad ways--from shipping to refineries to distribution and beyond--the next issue was getting gas. Within days, there were mile-long lines at gas stations, as people tried to power their generators and go places where they can plug in and be warm. Police were stationed in any open gas station to prevent altercations; it wasn't long before our governor began a gas rationing system. Even with that, it was several days before the supply loosened up and we didn't have to make decisions on whether to "spend" our precious gas to get anywhere--to work, to the store (if it was even open), to a diner to eat a warm meal.

Long lines at the gas stations--lines for cars trying to fill up, and lines for people with their ubiquitous red gas cans trying to get fuel for their generators.

Since we had power, and our office didn't, I was able to work from home. A co-worker joined me, and the dogs and cats made sure we focused--on working and giving them snuggles and pets. In this picture, if you look carefully, you can see Elsa on a chair in the rear, Calvin on a chair in the front, and Jasper hanging out under the table.

This whole experience of being part of a major disaster--and being one of the extremely lucky ones who didn't get hurt or lose a home to falling trees, fires or flood (thank you generator)--has made me realize that I didn't have a clue about other disasters. I think about Katrina. Haiti. The tsunami that hit Japan. The media cover those events for a while and then other news took over. And maybe you hear or read a story one month or one year later. For the people in those areas, recovery isn't measured in weeks, but in years.

And, as they say, the devil is in the details, and there are so many things you don't think about.

The people in lower Manhattan who live in buildings where the basements have flooded, and therefore there is no power. No power means no elevators. This is a problem if you live on the 27th floor. And maybe you're told your building won't be livable for the next 3 weeks or 3 months. Because they can't get the contractors or the parts to fix the problem--because there are 34 other buildings in the same situation. Where do you go? Where do you stay? You can break your lease, but then you can't move your furniture down 27 floors without an elevator. And then, how do you go to work?

Which is another story, because so much of New York's transportation system shut down. Subway tunnels were flooded. Some of the main car and truck tunnels into the city were also flooded.  The same is true in New Jersey. Two weeks after the storm, and New Jersey Transit still has limited service in many areas. You simply can't get places you used to be able to. Hour-long commutes become two or three hours--each way.

And then there are folks like my neighbors who don't have city water; well water requires a pump, and without electricity, they don't have water. We helped them out by giving them buckets and jugs of water--and leaving our water hose hooked up to the front of the house so they could get water any time they needed it.

Schools were closed here for over a week. Some schools still haven't opened, and in some cases, classes have begun, but in different buildings. One school system has middle school students sharing the high school in shifts: middle school in the mornings, high school in the afternoons until 6:00.

The whole disaster has shown how important a reverse 911 or text messaging system is so critical to communication. How do you tell people what is going on and where they need to go for help if they don't have power. No power means no TV, radio or internet--unless you have a smart phone, until it runs out its battery. And with the gas shortage, where can people go?

Last Tuesday, when everyone went to the polls to vote for President (and others), here in New Jersey, we had to figure out where to go. Our voting location changed because it had no power. And the one we finally wound up at turned out to be powered by generators. I guess it's no wonder that this year's voter turnout in New Jersey may have been the lowest on record.

Lighting by generator outside the polling place on election day. My son Aaron (in the picture) voted for the first time in this election; it will be quite memorable for many, many reasons.

Last week, several New Jersey and New York musicians including Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi and Billy Joel held a telethon to benefit the victims. I texted REDCROSS to 90999 to support the cause. But I can tell you, it was the weirdest thing to see a telethon to benefit my state, my neighbors, my city and the Jersey shore of my memories.

Elsa Clair encourages everyone to donate to the Red Cross. We've seen them around town and heard wonderful things about how much they're helping.

In all of this, I was able to get to know my neighbors better, as we all pulled together to help each other, offering whatever we could to those who needed anything. We all watched out for each other. And that was a very good thing.

We'll recover.  Things won't ever be the same, but we'll recover. And we'll have made new friends and strengthened bonds along the way.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Stormy Weather: Sandy Pays an Unwelcome Visit (Part I)

I think you would probably have to be living under a rock these days to not have heard about Hurricane Sandy or Superstorm Sandy or whatever you call the monster storm that hit the east coast of the U.S. in the last week of October. It was, the weather forecasters told us ahead of time, a recipe for disaster. Take one nasty hurricane, add a nor'easter, sprinkle in a cold front and stir with a backwards jet stream. Cook slowly with a full moon to create an ultra high tide. And hunker down.

(The last time we got hit by a hurricane was Irene in 2011; feel free to read my post on the battening and hunkering we had to do back then and the post about how we weathered the storm, which was only a little over a year ago.)

We knew it was going to be bad when Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel showed up in Battery Park in the lower tip of Manhattan. He only goes where they expect the worst weather to happen. Jim Cantore and Mike Seidel. Mike showed up on the Jersey coast. When you see them in your neighborhood, you know you're in for it.

So it wasn't too surprising that Sandy hit New York and New Jersey very hard.

During the storm, which began in earnest on Monday, October 29 and lasted through the next day, we spent most of the daytime in the basement. It was the first time the kittens were down there, so for them it was mostly fun and games and exploration.

How do kittens while away the time while in the basement? By playing Foosball. Of course.

The wind kicked up as the day went on, and by evening the wind really was howling. I would take the dogs outside to do their business and I kept looking up at the sky and wondering why jets were still flying--and so low that I could really heard their engines. And then it dawned on me. The sound wasn't from airplanes; it was the wind. That loud. Really.

The dogs weren't happy. It was loud and wet. And blowy. Not fun to play in. They kept looking at me as if to say, "Turn it off already!"

Jasper and Tucker: It's raining! We're getting wet! Let us in already!

Even when the rain let up a bit, Tucker and Jasper weren't that happy with the nasty winds.
A wet Lilah didn't mind wind or rain.

I always thought hurricanes meant lots of rain. But this was really a wind event. We would get bands of rain with serious downpours now and again, but it was the blowing, thrashing wind that showed Mother Nature's power to us.

Pine siskins attempted to shelter from the winds by clinging to the side of our large maple tree.

Strong winds shredded leaves from the trees and plastered them against the house. Jasper didn't care; he just wanted to get inside where it's warm and dry.

In the midst of it all, Athena slept right next to the windows as the wind rattles the panes. She barely twitched a whisker.

By nighttime, the winds were getting stronger. You could hear it even within the safety of our home.  The dogs and cats and kittens, for the most part, ignored the storm. You could tell Lilah wasn't very happy as she stuck a little closer to me when the winds were bad. And every once in a while, a gust came through that made everyone perk up their ears and brace for something. But nobody was panicking or hiding...except for maybe Dawn, but she Hides all the time; it's her hobby.

At 7:30, the power went out. I would say we are lucky enough to have a generator, but we have a generator because two years ago we were very unlucky; an ill-timed storm caused us to lose power, and our battery back-up sump pumps couldn't keep up with the rain. We lost a lot of what we had stored in our basement from the resulting flood. It took us months to pick up the pieces; the silver lining was we were able to put the insurance money toward finishing the basement, and most important, installing a generator that is hooked up to our natural gas line.

That last part is real important: the generator is hooked up to our natural gas line. Which means when the power goes out, the generator automatically starts up. And keeps going. We don't have to fill it with gas. All we have to is check the oil if it runs for more than five days. Which one always hopes never happens.

We invited our neighbor over to spend the evening with us, and we spent the evening with our generator providing light and warmth--and power to the pumps. At one point, a particularly vehement gust shook the house. We halted our conversation and looked at each other, wide-eyed. When we started breathing again--not realizing at first that we had been holding our breaths--I could feel the adrenaline pounding through me. We all did. It felt like we had been brushed by something unbelievably powerful.

Later that night, we put the cats and kittens in the basement, as it was one of the safest rooms in the house--and the one most likely to stay closed and untouched if a tree landed on our roof. And my husband and I slept (make that "attempted to sleep") in my son's vacant room, along with the dogs, figuring it was furthest from the giant tree in our backyard, and hopefully less likely to be damaged.

It was a Very Long Night.

In my next post, I'll write about the aftermath of Sandy.