This post is a departure from the usual home and renovation topics. But it's what's on my mind today, and really, a lot of days lately. Yesterday after Thora and Mike left for their tri-weekly trip to the YMCA, I spent the morning cleaning cat vomit and urine. And while I was doing this thoroughly unenjoyable and all-too-frequent task, my little blog was getting many, many visits from brand new readers by way of Apartment Therapy. I had no idea until I was all done, the house smelled good again and I finally sat at my desk to work. It was such a delight to see all the comments in my Inbox that weren't spam and it made my day so much better. So thank you and welcome!

With that said, let's talk about pets! This is Orange.

Orange is old, not a spectacular age for a cat, somewhere between 16 and 17 and certainly geriatric. She eats special food and takes medication twice daily for a hyper-thyroid. She suffers from incontinence. Or should I say, I suffer from her incontinence? This little lady leaves a puddle wherever she sits, sleeps or walks. She also barfs. A lot. Like, a lot a lot.

At a mere 4.7 lbs per her last checkup (pre-thyroid meds, I think she's upwards of 6 lbs. today), Orange takes up more than her share of my time, my space and my cash. But I do love her, I swear.

Are you kidding me? This photo always cracks me up.
Today Orange is our only pet, but it hasn't always been that way. At one point, between the two of us, Mike and I had four cats. And they were a mighty crew. I mean, LOOK at these guys! Randall, a black and white farm rescue was Mike's late-night art companion for years. I brought Marlon, Roosevelt and Orange to the mix.

Softest kitty. Never needed a brush.
Randall was used to being the main event when Mike was a single guy, but he handled the new arrivals with grace—stepping to the side so Marlon could take his spot by the drafting table, and Roosevelt could walk by without kicking his ass. He was the sweetest and he drooled when getting a good rub. He was also the first to go, succumbing to the dreaded and almighty kidney failure. When he first got sick, I recognized it right away. My childhood cat, Sam, died the same way. First, you get the diagnosis. Hopeful, you attempt to treat it with daily fluid injections (which can be difficult to administer), and they get a little better for a little while. Then it stops working. And your cat gets smaller and weaker until finally you are forced to make the choice. And so we did.

Like a sack o' potatoes.
Marlon was my pride and joy. I'll cop to paying money for this cat, from a breeder. Sam was a Persian and when I lost him, I could not imagine a replacement. Until I met this cuddle muffin who once fit inside my palm. I loved him the way I love Thora. I kid you not. He could do no wrong. Everything about him was hilarious, adorable, perfect and genius. He was just so cool. Even with all that fur and pompous heritage, this cat was full of love and swagger. Oh my god I miss him. Marlon died in one day. One incredible, traumatic day. I came home from a girl's weekend to find him stretched on the bathroom floor, sort of panting. It looked suspicious, but I thought maybe he was hot. But the panting didn't stop and that night I woke up in a worry. I went to find him. He and Roosevelt were sitting by the refrigerator and they both looked worried. Roosevelt peeped and Marlon's breathing was officially labored. I scooped him up and got online, Marlon draped over my arm. There it was, Cardiomyopathy.

Just another nap.
I headed to the vet the moment they opened and they whisked him off to X-ray. The results showed a heart that had grown much too large. I remember they weren't sure if the walls of his heart had actually thickened or were filled with fluid. We discussed specialists and next steps, I was in tears. I can't remember exactly what treatment they were going to start with that morning. But I do remember petting him too hard through the armholes of the oxygen tank he was laying in and with a dirty look, he swat me to tell me to cut it out. I smiled and sighed. Mike and I went across the street for coffee and to discuss, then we headed home. Marlon died before we got there. The vet said they went to give him an injection and his heart just stopped.

You shall not pass.
Roosevelt was my bully. I adopted Rosie, totally appropriate nickname btw, from a friend's mother. She had found him and his siblings and his mother under an overpass in Lake Forest, IL. He was wild. His markings so beautiful. As a kitten he tore my arms to shreds, but thankfully not my furniture. He followed Marlon around like a shadow but never liked Orange. He was massive. Always a wildcard but he matured into a lap kitty who loved me. He would look you directly in your eyes and it seemed, ask you questions. Eventually he got fat, I suppose because his body was designed for in-the-woods-nature-channel-type survival. He lost his weight by eating his food from a toy ball—which he quickly mastered, laying on the floor batting it just so for maximum spillage. He was a marvel. I reluctantly put everyone on wet food, all for him.

Don't make any sudden moves.

During my pregnancy it was Roosevelt who was most concerned. He curled up with my belly every night. And once Thora was born, well, I had never seen him more careful all his life. He kept his distance, I think he sniffed her head once or twice. But he also kept a close watch. He was her personal gargoyle.

Gorgeous boy. Photo by Aubrie Pick

Eventually Roosevelt got sick. Almost instantly, he became lethargic, jaundice and thin. I was pregnant, we were in the middle of the kitchen reno, life was stressful and I could not, would not, lose him. Our vet narrowed it down to something in the liver and sent us to a specialist in Concord. Roosevelt had a blood transfusion that saved his life. However, they could not determine a true diagnosis and tests were costly and uncertain. The following year is very foggy, with the new baby and lack of sleep that that entails, but we did everything for him. SAMe medications, liquid steroids salmon-flavored at the local lab, emergency meds when his appetite would drop, grain-free food or baby food if desperate. He would get better for months, then have a lapse, we'd rally the medical troops, he'd get better. It was a cycle. The last cycle the meds didn't work. His body, HE didn't respond to all our tricks and I could see he was over it. Then he was gone.


Wow, what a quick synopsis of the past 16 years of our lives with pets. I'm glad I'm recording it here. These guys are all so precious to me. I can't believe we use to have 4 cats, in a 500 sq. foot apartment no less! When everyone was healthy, it was a lot of fun. A lot of fur, but a lot of fun. What I hate though, is the great loss. For as much love as they bring, there is always an end. And I'm looking at Orange...

Don't hit me, Rosie. Photo by Aubrie Pick
Last Woman Standing. Orange was a real rescue, my foster child, from a Chicago alley behind my apartment. In the rain, in the dark, she came to me. She practically lept in my arms, muddy little paws on my brand new white t-shirt. I brought her inside. I only had Marlon at the time and I gave them a day to meet under a door. My apartment had it's own stairwell to the street and I set her up in there. She proceeded to give us fleas, despite the flea collar she had been wearing much too tightly. A trip to the vet for shots and a de-flea and a health synopsis took place. They guessed her age around 2, probably abandoned, probably abandoned very young which was why her collar was so tight. She had a chunk cut from her tongue. She was six pounds but healthy, just small. I looked at her and thought, you are small, you are plain, you are Orange.

Orange and Marlon got along fine, but when Roosevelt moved in, she didn't like it one bit. Upon introduction, she gave him a good smack. Of course, Rosie was small at the time. Little did she know he would soon tip the scales at 20 lbs. That smack sealed her fate and she became prey. To my surprise, Marlon joined Rosie in this reign of terror! Poor little OJ (her nickname) became the butt of every joke, the victim in every rumble. They would stalk her side by side and I served referee.

I suppose it's only fair she gets to live out these last years in peace and quiet. If only she weren't so old and so sick. At this moment I am waiting. Waiting to see if she gets sicker, if I need to make the dreaded, drastic and merciful move of letting her go. But I wish with all my heart she will pass in her sleep. I do not want to make this decision. So she takes her pill, and I clean up after her, and I give her a nice place to rest. She spends all of her time in the back addition. I simply cannot have urine all over the house. It's decent back there and it's where I work so we spend time together every day. Thora is gentle with her and loves her despite her funk. She has access to the yard, a bed, her food, her litter and a pile of toys she barely touches anymore. But I don't think she feels well. How can she?

Mom, sorry for all the barf.
At this moment, and because of my little, tiny cat, I can not buy a new rug or a new couch. I even hate buying cat beds because they are ruined within days. But I do of course. It's amazing the amount of mess she creates—way more than having four cats at once ever did. Sigh...

Watching your pets get old and get sick sucks. But it does not mask the joy they bring. I used to be lonely and they made me less so. And for that, I go to great lengths for their comfort, health and happiness—even at the cost of nice furniture. Little OJ, whatever you need, you tell me. And I will try not to get too mad when I am greeted with yet another barf at the foot of the stairs. We got a deal?



This past weekend, I found myself in the rare position of not having to work. Any other freelancers out there, particularly those with kids and no nanny budget, know what I'm talking about. Usually, weekends do not exist. Neither do evenings or early mornings, but I digress. And so on Friday as I saw three projects come to a close, I had the realization of whoa, hold on, I don't think I have to work this weekend. Hooray! Weekend!

Sadly, my husband was not in my same good fortune. He still had to work. There would be no big family outings or other such revelry. (Although we did go to dinner on Sunday night, alone, because it was our anniversary for pete's sake. Thank you Siobahn!)

Saturday morning I woke up with a big smile on my face. What to do? What. To. DO?? I scooped up my sprite (Thora) and we had our usual morning of breakfast, making a pinwheel garden in between the couch cushions and Caillou. Then we took it outside.

I am very fortunate in that my child likes to tool around the backyard as much as I do. She has a gardener's heart. With her little bucket and shovel and sunhat, she can sit in the gravel for ages, coming up only to request bubbles or for you to fill her watering can. So while she filled and emptied her bucket on repeat, I did some weeding. And trimming. And watering. And planting. Thora helped me sow seeds for carrots, beets, romaine and spinach. All of which I expect to suffer tragic ends because it is much too late in the season for these cool veggies. But I really don't care. It's more about the experience and getting our hands dirty. We planted peppers, beans, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes a while ago and they are, dare I say, flourishing. Regardless of how my seeds do, there will be some green back there.

Then we had pbjs and blueberries and I sent her off to nap. And this is where things get heroic.

A few weeks ago I tackled the front yard with the weed whacker. You may recall my embarrassment while bragging about our tree? I also got half way through the side yard before I thought my hand was going to vibrate right off, so I quit. The back half of that side yard sat in the back half of my brain, nag nag nag. Out of the corner of my eye, I would catch the weeds creeping up to our bedroom window, taunting me, reminding me of my weed whacking failures. Heavy sigh.

Then today I remembered this post at Picardy Project. That girl is 9 months pregnant and know what she did, she PULLED the weeds? Why had I never thought to pull the weeds? We have always weed whacked the front and side yards, foolishly thinking it was faster and better. But now that I thought about it—it's messy, the chords are a pain to deal with and you don't get the roots. Duh!

I grabbed my bucket, gloves and Hunter boots and with great determination, I was off to slay my dragon.

You can see how far I got last time. And of course the weeds that have popped right back up. But does this visually represent the gravity of those virgin weeds? Let's try again.

There we go. That's knee-high, baby, and about 15 feet. And I'm just getting over a sinus infection. Sinuses aside, I jumped right in. And wouldn't you know it, totally easy. Those weeds are tall but their roots are puny. And truthfully, pulling those weeds was like meditation for me. It was gratifying and I like taking care of the things I care about, even when it sucks. Besides, I was done in 40 minutes.

Still ugly as butt and primed to grow right back. But for now, and pending any unlikely rain, this eases my mind. I no longer have to lie in bed seeing the shadow of those weeds outside the blinds. I do not have to imagine the rodents and spiders and snails and ants setting up shop three feet below my child's window. Heavy sigh of relief.

Now if I had a few hundred bucks to spend over here, I know exactly what I'd do. First, I'd hire someone to come over and level out this dirt. It is very compact clay and higher than the house. That's bad. I would level it out then put down weed screen then fill it with gravel. I also want to plant a bamboo outside our bathroom window since it is in direct view of the neighbor's bathroom. I know what color his toothbrush is. Ew.

Then I'd take down that fence in the back and put up a new one at the front of the house. I hate that someone could easily walk back here. Let's put a stop to that. Not sure what to do about all the nails sticking out of the side fence. Thanks neighbor!

And of course patch the stucco, replace the windows and paint the house. Haha! Now I'm all stressed out again.

Let's hope for another work-free weekend soon. This time with all THREE of us. And honey, I promise I won't make you weed the side yard. Happy Anniversary!



The living room has come a long way. Not all the way to completion mind you, oh no, not ever. But certainly a far cry from when I first laid eyes on it. We started here:

Looking at this picture is surreal. We were so full of excitement at homeownership, not yet jaded by costs and time and the general stress of it all. We were downright gleeful eating our McDonald's and ripping out that carpet, sitting on those patio chairs. I purchased those two yellow pots for the front porch from Smith & Hawken before we even closed on the house. Silly me thought we'd be working on the yard in no time!

We gave everything a good scrub, took down those dusty curtains and hung temporary paper blinds in their place. (Little did we know those blinds would hang for two years!) Then we moved in.

What happened next was chronicled on this very blog oh so long ago, here, here and here.

After which we were left with this, and it stayed this way for a very long time. Until we found ourselves with a baby en route and simply could put it off no longer. It was straight-up dangerous with that exposed fireplace and no flooring.

Enter a good friend and carpenter who happened to stop by one afternoon to talk shop with Mike. He took a look at our wall and I told him my plans to replace the bookcases and add a mantle and somehow put the TV up there because the room is so small and we need all the floor space we can get, and how should I reframe those windows and blah blah blah. His response? I could do that for you, totally easy, no big deal.

Our jaws dropped. Are you serious? Are you some sort of angel sent from above? YES! YES! YES! Was our resounding reply.

What followed has been a couple years worth of random weekend drop-ins, each one with another step towards progress. I mean, he's a busy man with a full-time job and a family and a serious commute. I get it. And we are very happy with the results. What's left to do is attach plate rail across the windows/wall and trim out the bottom of the cases and we can call this a wrap.

Verdict: LOVE. They are aesthetically simple and very functional. The varied heights are more interesting than what was there. The glass doors are a nice touch and the bottom cupboards are great storage. Our friend built and installed the cabinets and mantle. What did Mike and I do?

• Cut the fireplace tile down by one and a half rows so that the TV wouldn't be too high.
• Added insulation to the flue, sealed off the smoke chamber of the fireplace with a board since there was no damper. Should be added we also put a steel cap on the chimney outside, per our inspector's suggestion.
• Caulked and painted everything—walls, trim, bookcases, mantle, tile and inside of the fireplace.
• Hung some doggone blinds, thank you very much

The built-in on the left houses our photo albums, some books and DVDs in the bottom. Baby-proofed or else I'd be picking up DVDs every. single. day.

The bookcase on the right gets a little more action, being near Thora's play zone.

The top shelves I use to display objects inspiring to me—a collection of mini-zines, my favorite Campus Cuties etc. It's a work-in-progress. These shelves are not nearly full enough!

The bottom is all Thora, all the time. Books, puzzles, crayons. This is her hub. She loves it. She opens those doors with ownership. She knows how not to pinch her fingers and sometimes, if I'm lucky, she'll even put some stuff away.

The rest of the living room follows suit. Half for Thora, half for Mommy and Daddy. I hope to one day remodel the addition on the back of our house into a playroom/guest room/home office and all of this will move back there. Until then, this works out dandy.

Here is her little Kritter table and chairs set from Ikea. That doll was a birthday gift, handmade in my hometown and others are available here. Apparently her name is Meep.

On the opposite wall is an Expedit bookshelf full of toys. Expedit is a requirement for all 21st Century parents, don't you think? This is one of two that we own. The other is in her room and doubles as a bench. That glider has got to go. It served its purpose for nursing and things, but today it is a hazard. I'd like to replace it with a pair of chairs and have been on the prowl for ages.

I love this lamp. What should I fill it with?

What's next? After finishing the bookcase wall of course...

A new couch. I hate that couch. I am so over that couch. It's a pullout that we bought when we first moved to Northern California. It was from the clearance section of a now-defunct Levitz. And I hate it. We used to have this amazing sofa from Williams Sonoma that I got off of craigslist when we lived in San Diego, but it didn't fit in the moving truck! Tragedy.

Obviously, the floors need to be refinished. I'm actually glad we didn't do this right away. If we had I would've stained them very dark. Today, I would do a lighter, slightly grey, walnut look. Cha-ching.

New windows of course. I'd like to do real wood windows here and in the dining room, since they are part of our curb appeal. Then vinyl throughout the rest of the house.

Decorate! We need art in this room. Bad. Some personalization would be ever clever.

Gone is the shag, the popcorn, and of course, the rotten wall. In its place is an in-between room, a make-do. Livable, but not designed. I think it's a far cry from where we started!