Zhadi's Den

Random essays on wine, writing, moving to San Francisco, surfing, cats (exotic and otherwise) and zombies...depending on my mood.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

What's a pets life worth?

My roommate's cat, Tepes (named after Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes, btw), recently developed a fatty liver condition, requiring extensive veterinary care, a feeding tube and an expensive liquid diet, follow up visits (none of them free)...well, you get the picture. His condition was improving, or so it seemed, but Tepes then developed seizures, one of them taking place underneath a reclining chair. He somehow managed to tangle himself like a pretzel in and out of the metal bars that raised and lowered the foot-rest. Gayle and I tried to extricate him, me at the front under the raised foot rest, Gayle reaching in through the back, half under the chair as she tried to simultaneously comfort and rescue her baby. We got him partially untangled, but one hind leg was somehow trapped over and under two separate bars. We were afraid to try any further for fear of hurting him or dislodging the feeding tube still inserted in his neck.

After an hour of howling (Tepes), crying (Gayle, from worry and then the pain of having Tepes sink his teeth into her forearm) and frustration (me, on the phone with Animal Control trying to convince them that yes, we really did need help and no, I couldn't dismantle the chair with a hammer and a screwdriver by myself), Ellie from SF Animal Control arrived, an Australian (New Zealander?) gal with a cheerful, competent manner. She quickly and efficiently extracted Tepes from the chair, no dismantling necessary. Gayle cradled a shell-shocked, drooling Tepes on her lap while I walked Ellie to the door and thanked her.

Dave, whom I'd called right after Animal Control, arrived shortly after that, and together we hauled the recliner, practically brand new, down the stairs and out to the front curb, along with a sign that said 'Free Chair.' We settled Tepes in Gayle's bedroom, gave him Rescue Remedy and wrapped him in blankets, figuring that some rest in a familiar, safe place was the best thing for him. Then we went to the Bashful Bull, a cafe down the block, for breakfast and tried to relax - I'm not sure if I could pick a more stressful way to start a day.

We were gone for about a half hour. When we got home Tepes was stiff-legged, his pupils dilated. He looked dead. But then we noticed that he was breathing. Shallow and rapid breaths, hardly noticeable, but he was breathing. We got him to the emergency hospital after what seemed like the longest car ride in history. I was sure he'd be dead by the time we made it to the hospital.

Long story short, an overnight at the emergency hospital, five nights at an emergency specialty pet hospital, the regular vet visits and over $8,000 worth of care, tests and medicine later, Tepes is back home and healing. The night he came home from the specialty E.R., he wouldn't stop talking, stalked up to all the other cats, shoving his head under their mouths for grooming, threw himself down on the floor periodically to purr and flex his paws. Seeing him so lively and happy after the recliner incident and its aftermath was enough to make me cry. Five days later, he's still talking up a storm. I suspect he underwent some sort of feline spiritual conversion and wants to share the experience with the rest of us.

I've spent a lot of money on veterinary care over the last few years. When you have 7 cats (now down to 5, at least that are living with me in San Francisco), the odds are fairly high that one or more of them will get sick or injured and require the services of a vet. For instance, one of my boys got a urinary tract infection that required minor surgery, overnight hospitalization and a new, semi-permanent, and very expensive diet. Not counting the increased monthly food bill, his condition cost around $500.

During his overnight stay, Foster caught a respiratory virus from another feline visitor. Basically the equivalent of a kitty cold. He started sneezing, coughing, his nose clogged with mucus, his eyes watered, he had no appetite...Foster was one miserable feline. Worried, I took him back to the vet's office and was told that there was nothing to do but let the virus run its course. I could give him eye drops and nose drops (we're talking nasal decongestant spray) to help the ocular irritation, and to help him get his appetite back (no sense of smell equals no appetite), but that was about it.

Even worse, my other six cats caught it too. Ever had to give eyedrops and nasal spray to seven cats? I hope not 'cause it's a pain in the ass. Not all of them developed symptoms as severe as Foster's. Beezle and Sorscha escaped with some sneezing, runny nose and a slight loss of appetite, but they never showed the apathetic misery of the other five.

One cat, Vootie, was a recluse anyway, so I didn't notice right away that her condition was more serious than the other six. Then one morning, she crawled out of her cubbyhole under my sewing table, looked at me, gave this piteous little cry, and collapsed on her side. I rushed her to the our vet's office, where Dr. Jimmerson (whose usual persona is along the lines of Dr. Hibbert on THE SIMPSONS) looked at me sternly and pronounced, "This cat is dying." The infection, nothing life threatening in and of itself, had triggered a congenital weakness in her kidneys, which were nearly shut down.

Vootie was a fighter and wasn't ready to go. She rallied, then went downhill again. Another long story short, after a truly heroic effort on Dr. Jimmerson's part, several trips to the emergency room in the middle of the night, overnight stays at the vet's alternating with home care, and a rollercoaster of pessimism and hope, we lost her. The vet's office sent us a bowl of two dozen yellow roses and a sympathy card. Brian and I spent almost two thousand dollars we couldn't afford to save our little girl, but the combination of kidney problems and the debilitating effects of the virus were too much for her. I still feel guilty for not noticing just how ill Vootie was and I'll always be haunted by that little cry.

One of our friends, after finding out how much Gayle spent to save Tepes, made the comment that she loved her cat, but she had a budget. A set amount that she was willing to spend to save her cat's life if it came down to that. Most of that is pure practicality - she only has so much that she can spend; no credit cards to use in case of emergency. I've been in that position when you have to scrape money together however you can to pay for a car repair or vet bill. Sometimes it's just not there, so you drive on those bald tires a little longer, try to be careful. Or treat that abscess on your cat's haunch with hot compresses and hope that she doesn't get sick from infection. I've been there and it sucks.

However, I've also come to realize that not everyone looks at their animals the same way that I do. I don't have a budget for my pets any more than most people have a cap on what they'd spend if their child came down with a life-threatening disease, even when there's no guarantee of a happy ending. Sure, we lost the crapshoot with Vootie's life. But do I regret spending the money? Not on your life. If it had worked, every penny would have been worth it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Wine Weekend - the Final Finale

No, really! I swear it!

When last we left our wine guzzling heroine, she had left Darioush Winery and was snoozing happily on the bus, headed towards the next and final winery of the weekend: Silverado Vineyards (also referred to as "The Disney Winery" by locals because of its former affiliation with the Walt Disney family...

I woke up just as we were pulling into the driveway of yet another spectacularly beautiful winery, with a wide expanse of lawn in front that was bordered by brilliant orange-gold Marigolds. The nap, along with a bottle of water I'd had before drifting off (and I understand there's a photo of me sleeping on the bus...grrrrr...) cleared my head and I was ready for more tasting. Even more imperative, however, was the need to find a bathroom. I was one of the first off the bus, right after Robert.

I paused to smile at him; he'd taken to complimenting me on my clothes. He loved the belt I was wearing, an unusual leather hip belt with a huge brass buckle that skimmed the hips and set off the silk Indian sari fabric skirts I wore most of the weekend. I intended the smile to be a hit and run sort of affair, but it resulted in a walk over to the marigolds, arm in arm with Robert. Other than the urgency of my bladder, I was delighted. I held Robert in a certain amount of awe and was happy to spend time with him. He told me about a dinner he'd gone to where the salad dressing had included marigolds. I can't remember the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of "Be sparing with the vinegar, generous with the olive oil, and wild with the marigolds."

Kevin took our picture in front of the flowerbeds; he liked the way the oranges and golds of my skirt picked up the color from the marigolds (I still haven't seen the picture and hope to get a copy of it. The one of me sleeping will NOT be posted, however). Other people wanted to have their picture taken with Robert, so I dashed off with Gayle to find the bathroom before joining the rest of the group on a beautiful terrace overlooking the vineyards.

We drank Silverado Sauvignon Blanc and bottled water, sat on chairs or along the brick wall lining the terrace. They weren't quite ready to serve lunch yet, so some of the group stayed on the terrace and relaxed, while a few of us went on a short tour of the facilities. The vat rooms were remarkable because of several huge stained glass windows (pictures to follow), truly spectacular.

Lunch was served in the expansive tasting room. I don't remember precisely what we had, only that it was delicious, as was most of the food on this trip. The wines were a Chardonnay and a Merlot and again, my memory of them is sketchy. I know they were both good; nothing I'd toss in a dump bucket, so to speak. But for me, lunch was about listening to Robert, who sat at our table, regale us with stories of his relationship with Gloria Swanson, which started during the filming of SUNSET BOULEVARD, and talking to him about Billy, whom Robert considers one of the most brilliant people he's ever met. Robert had tears in his eyes (which set off my waterworks) as he expressed his fears about Billy's health and then tapped on his glass for attention so he could make a proper toast to Billy Brackenridge, who should have been there with us. Here, here.

The trip back to Oakland Airport passed by quickly. At least it did for me, sprawled out as I was across two seats in another contented nap. Malcolm, after dropping everyone else off at the Southwest Terminal, graciously drove Gayle and me into San Francisco to a downtown hotel, where Dave was able to pick us up without fighting the Bay Bridge traffic.

I don't know if I'll ever have the chance to go to one of Robert's wine classes again, let alone do another field trip. If not, then I'm content to enjoy the wine weekend as the once in a lifetime experience that it was. Thank you, Billy!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Sin Zin

Just a quick post on a wine I had over the weekend - Sin Zin, a California Zinfandel that I pronounce yummy. It's not too expensive - I found it for around 17 bucks at Bev Mo after trying it in a hotel restaurant by the glass (don't know how much it was by the glass as I wasn't buying). It had all the qualities that I like in a Zinfandel: slightly peppery, warm spice, and plenty of rich berry nose and taste to pull the pepper and spice together into an awesome blend. I had three glasses over the course of three hours; this is the kind of wine that has enough going on that you really want to take your time. To all of my Zinfandel loving friends and family, go try a bottle!

I've also added a link for Nat Decants, my favorite online wine newsletter. The author, Natalie MacLean, has a sense of humor and a very accessible writing style, with lots of interesting facts and great wine picks.

More on my wine weekend later...

Friday, May 20, 2005

Vanity, black eyes and surfing

Originally uploaded by zhadi.
When I took up surfing, I discovered the macho joy of showing off surf-related injuries, like the black eye in this picture (mine, not Foster's).

Mind you, I wasn't actually on my board when the injury occurred. I was standing in thigh-deep water talking to my surf guru and pal Jim, my hand resting on a 9 foot, 10 inch board floating beside me. It was one of those days when the rip currents were strong and whacky, going every which way. Suddenly a wave snuck up behind me (they do that on purpose, y'know), hit me hard, knocked me down and flung my board towards shore. I stood up just as an equally strong and sneaky wave came back FROM shore (it is just SO weird when that happens!) and threw my board back at me. No time to duck and cover; the nose of the board smashed into my cheekbone right below my left eye, knocking me over again.

Ouch. Blinding pain, followed by numbness, followed by more pain.

Jim asked me if I was okay, did it hurt. 'No' and 'yes', but for some reason, I couldn't stop giggling as I answered him. Did I want to go in and ice it? Not ready to get out of the water, I opted to catch a few more waves, knowing Jim would approve of my decision. It's a macho thing, if not necessarily a smart one.

I could feel my face start to swell at the point of impact, so I splashed cold sea water on it. By the time we went in, rinsed our boards and suits, and cleaned up, I looked like I was in the middle of a half-assed lycanthropic transformation, with my left cheekbone protruding about an inch further than the right. The skin around my eye was starting to discolor.

Cool, I thought.

Now when I was younger (much younger!), a disfiguring injury like this would have had me in hysterics. Or histrionics. Maybe both. I was, to put it mildly, very vain. Going out of the house without make-up was not a possibility. Any kind of blemish, imperfection or injury was an embarrassment (I thought a cold sore was the end of the world).

If I was bad, the combination of me and my best friend, Maureen, was a lethal dose of vanity. She and I went to Disneyland and wore, respectively, high heels and a cinch belt. We used to wear Danceskin leotards, matching white cotton skirts and ankle-strap sandals. We just assumed that the raised eyebrows we got from older women meant that they were jealous, not that we might look like a couple of slightly slutty idiot twins.

My mother, no doubt ready to dropkick us both, finally told me and Mo that one day we'd have to accept the fact that the only way we'd be able to stop traffic was to step in front of an oncoming truck. That's the kind of quote that sticks with a gal, and while neither Maureen nor I became wallflowers, we both developed well-needed senses of humor about ourselves and realized that just because a guy wasn't interested in us, it didn't necessarily mean he was gay.

I gradually developed the ability to leave the house without makeup and wearing clothes that weren't skintight. I learned the joys of sweats, yoga pants and tennis shoes. A cold sore was no longer reason to get me to a nunnery.

And my black eye? I was as proud of it as any macho teenage boy would have been ("hey, check out my cool black eye! Yeah, I got it surfing...") showing it off to friends and family, and monitoring the color changes and swelling in absolute fascination. I was tempted not to ice it just to see how much it would swell, but I wasn't that far gone in my reverse vanity. I was, however, disappointed when the last of the greenish yellow bruise faded from sight.

And I haven't stepped in front of that moving truck yet either.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Steel Vats

Originally uploaded by zhadi.
Filled with wine...most likely Chardonnay or Sauvignan Blanc. I'm not sure which winery this was at...most of the vat rooms look alike after a few glasses!

Darioush Winery

Originally uploaded by zhadi.
Persian sandstone and design...more pictures to follow, along with the finale of Wine Weekend!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Wine Weekend - The Finale (part one)

Sigh...I nearly finished this yesterday and then had to close out of my computer without saving it...Doncha hate it when that happens?

ANYway, I have to say that one of the most amazing things about the entire wine weekend was that after Saturday night's bacchanalian binge, both Gayle and I got up Sunday morning. Sans hangovers. After another continental breakfast and several cups of coffee, I even felt downright perky. Good thing 'cause there were at least a half dozen bottles of Valley of the Moon sparkling wine chilling in the cooler, courtesy of several generous members of our group. I could definitely get used to that kind of decadence.

Originally our first stop of the day was scheduled to be Korbel Champagne Cellars, followed by lunch at Silverado and then dinner at Darioush. When the owner of Darioush made himself available Sunday morning to personally conduct our tour, however, Carol felt that it would be a more unique and worthwhile experience to cancel Korbel and head straight to there. I admit to being a bit bummed out at first; I'm a total champagne/sparkling wine junkie. I consoled myself with the fact that I'd been to Korbel before and hadn't been overly impressed. Besides, I wasn't exactly suffering from bubbly deprivation this weekend.

Darioush turned out to be well worth the change of plans. The grounds alone were magnificent (there WILL be pictures posted over the weekend!), with Persian architecture and art work. The building utilized sandstone imported from Persia; it had a deceptively rough looking surface, but was smooth and cool to the touch. The cellars lay directly under the tasting room/lobby/shopping area, with what appeared to be skylights set into the ceiling. Those skylights were actually clear tables with lights set in them. A stairway bridged the two floors, a curtain of water cascading down thin plastic lines in what was one of the most unique water features I've seen. There was an outdoor amphitheater made of the same Persian sandstone. All it needed was a few well-muscled gladiators to complete the feel of a another place and time (and just because every house should have a few well muscled gladiators for ambiance).

The gift store carried unique pieces of home decor and artwork, everything with a Middle Eastern theme or artist behind it. There was none of the usual grape themed jewelry, T-shirts and Merlot flavored chocolate sauce. Not that there's anything wrong with clusters of gold grapes hanging from one's ears or clothing bearing winery logos. It's just that after a while, all those winery gift stores blur together. Not so Darioush.

The tasting was held in a vat room that was currently doubling as a gallery for the works of artist Mehri Yazdani (on exhibit at Darioush till June 16th, 2005). Her brightly colored, abstract pieces, while not entirely my taste, were eye-catching and made a nice backdrop to the event. My favorite depicted a brunette woman on horseback. It was mixed media, mainly reds, browns and golds, with splashes of yellow, blue and white thrown in. I would have bought that one if it had been in my price range (in other words, free).

Two tastefully dressed servers poured wine for us as we listened to Darioush Khaledi, founder and owner of the winery, talk about Darioush's history and its wines. He was both charming and interesting, but I confess my attention was mainly on the glass I was holding and its contents. We started with the 2003 Signature Chardonnay, a lush, creamy wine with all sorts of subtle fruit flavors lurking past the rich mouthfeel. It was good enough to warrant a second pour. A BIG second pour.

Next up was Darioush's signature wine, their 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon. A blend of
85% Cabernet Sauvignon10% Merlot2% Cabernet Franc1.5% Petit Verdot1.5% Malbec, it was a complex, very drinkable Cabernet that would definitely handle a few years of cellaring...If one could refrain from cracking the bottle right away. Definitely a huge hit with the group.

The high point for me was the special barrel tasting of two Syrah clones (one French, one Australian) that were used to create Darioush's Signature Syrah, and then a taste of the actual finished blend. Both clones were delicious; deep reddish purple in color (I love the variations of color in the different varietals). I thought they each stood on their own as far as being excellent wines. But the blend...ooh, mama! I would have happily taken a case home had I been able to afford it. As it was, I had so many tastes of it that I left Darioush slightly toasted and quite content.

View from trail overlooking Quintessa

Originally uploaded by zhadi.
Beautiful view, yummy wines...

Maddie Singing

Maddie Singing
Originally uploaded by zhadi.
A very musical cat, Maddie...she likes to find places with maximum echo potential for her songs.

Maddie's short for Madeline, after the ill fated heroine buried alive in Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher." When she was a feral kitten, she wedged herself into a small space in a stone pillar. Chisel and hammer were necessary to extract her. No lasting trauma is in evidence!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Wine Weekend - Part Four

Gayle and I started Saturday morning with a continental breakfast served buffet style at the Equas Hotel restaurant. There was a wide variety of muffins, scones, bagels, toast and other carbohydrotic foods to choose from, as well as oatmeal, coffee, tea, milk, and juice. I had a current scone (tasty) and several cups of coffee (it'll do), as well as lots of water to make up for the dehydrating effects from the hot tubbing and the drinking. We had to be on the bus no later than 8:00 in order to keep the carefully coordinated schedule.

When countdown time came, two people were still missing, Ken (?) and Crystal. Ken came dashing up a few minutes later, but Crystal was still MIA. Robert wanted to hold the bus for her, so she lucked out 'cause Carol was ready to sacrifice her, being of the 'good of the many versus the good of the few' mindset. Bad hangover or faulty alarm clock - we'll never know for sure. Whichever, an apologetic Crystal boarded the bus and we set off for Madonna Estates, our first stop of the day.

When we reached Madonna, the only all organic vineyard in Napa, we were greeted by the owner, "Buck" Bartolucci, who gave us a comprehensive lecture on natural organic farming (check out the website for more information) in front of the winery. Prompted by the warm weather the previous day, I was wearing a skirt and tanktop, a decision I was soon regretting as I shivered in the shade of the courtyard. A small group of us surreptitiously backed up into a sunny spot, soaking up the heat like lizards on a rock as Buck extolled the virtues of organic wine, including the fact that one could really taste the flavor of the grape varietal.

The lecture continued inside the winery. Gayle's cellphone rang, the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama" echoing between rows of stainless steel vats. Embarrassing, but luckily Kevin, who was perched on some stairs underneath one of the vats, knocked a piece of metal onto the ground. It was even noisier than the cellphone and created a diversion, during which Gayle and I snuck outside to see who called (both of us are pet owners with a keenly developed sense of paranoia when we have to leave them in someone else's care), and then snuck back in to join the tour among the oak barrels.

In the tasting room, we tried Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Dolcetto, and the Estate Cabernet. I found that while I could definitely taste the grapes, all of them were fairly sharp on the finish, not to my personal taste. The Chardonnay was the best; very interesting with a creamy mouthfeel, lots of fruit and no oak. Robert loved the Gewurztraminer and pronounced the wine a classic of its varietal.

We moved on to Viansa Winery and Italian Marketplace, so far the largest and most commercial of our stops, yet no less appealing for all the tourists. The grounds were extensive and gorgeous, with terraced gardens, courtyards, and wetlands. Big and busy. We had a private tasting set up in a separate covered tasting area with a view of the wetlands and gardens. Tables were set up for our lunch, but first we tasted big Italian style wines, including a 100% Cabernet Franc called Samuela (the wines are named for relatives) that cost $55 per bottle and was to die for. Large, lush, lovely...I finagled an extra taste from our tour guide without much trouble.

Lunch was a chicken sandwich served on foccacia bread, fruits, and some incredibly rich chocolate cookies, with a choice of Viansa Chardonnay or Sangiovese (or both, of course!). After lunch, Gayle and I wandered around the grounds a bit, then she went into the Italian Market while I called home to check up on the menagerie. Gayle came out with a set of coasters: reddish clay with grapes carved into them, with a purple ceramic holder* as a souvenir. I took a quick peak inside the store and watched with envy as one of our fellow tourists bought a case of the Samuela. Someday, I thought...

*(Two days after we got home, one of our cats knocked the set onto the hardwood floor, breaking a coaster and the holder in half. All hail Elmer's Glue!)

Our next stop was Valley of the Moon, my personal favorite. We saw the lab area and then had a private tasting in the barrel room of their '03 Pinot Blanc (an amazingly delicious white wine with all sorts of interesting aromas and a sweet, yet crisp flavor that prompted us to buy two bottles), '03 Chardonnay (vanilla and oak with a nice balance), '02 Pinot Noir (perfect Pinot nose with a slight bitter aftertaste in the first few sips; it opened up nicely after a few minutes), '01 Syrah (big and juicy), their '97 sparkling wine (weird nose, but tasted great - right on its peak and slipping past it), and the '00 Cuvee de la Luna (an excellent wine that would age well). We were then told we could try anything else we wanted in the tasting room, so I tried the '02 Zinfandel and the '02 Estate Old Vine Zin. Both were delicious, with that spicy, peppery smoothness that I like in my zins. Gayle and I joined the wine club and bought a bottle of the '02 Zin, the Pinot Noir, two sparkling wines and those two bottles of Pinot Blanc, all at a generous 25 percent discount given to our group, plus our wine club member discount. Excellent wine for good prices. And I'm happy to say that I've found it at local retailers.

Last stop was Matanzas Creek Winery, a beautiful winery, known for their six lavender gardens. We were going to have dinner at Matanzas, but first congregated in the tasting room and gift store, where we were promptly handed glasses of their Sauvignon Blanc. I dumped mine - it was boring and I wanted to save myself for whatever wine they served with dinner. They were just about to close the tasting room, so there was a flurry of shopping (there were lots of lavender themed items to choose from, as well as the usual selection of clothes, coasters, books and wine chochkis). A few of us begged a taste of the Syrah - it kicked the ass of the Sauvignon Blanc as far as memorable flavor and quality. Gayle bought a bottle to share in the hot tub later that evening.

Our dinner was served at a guest house tucked in back of the gardens. The view from the glass doors of the dining room seemed almost tropical (ponds, ferns, little wooden bridge), and very serene. Dinner was duck in a Merlot reduction, potato croquettes and baby carrots. Everything was cooked to perfection, provided you like the slightly fatty, richness of duck. I do, so I was in heaven. And the croquettes would have made a good dinner all by themselves. Dessert was a lemon bustard tart with berry sauce and the wines were Chardonnay and Merlot. Never mind all the jokes about not drinking any fucking Merlot; this stuff was excellent (I forgot to write down any specifics - I was too busy drinking). Once again, though, we were frustrated by not having tasted it in time to purchase some. Oh well, most of the group made up for that by drinking multiple glasses during dinner.

We had a bigger gang of diehards in the hot tub that night, easily killing the Syrah, a bottle of Zinfandel that Kevin had brought from his own collection, and much, much more. It got loud and silly (I admit it, I instigated thumb wrestling wars), and we were eventually asked very nicely to shut it down for the night. Not quite ready for bed, Gayle and I joined one of the guys in the bar for yet more wine (I had a glass of excellent Syrah, but sadly, was too buzzed to remember the name of it) and didn't get to bed until well past 2:00am. Thank god for those liver pills...

To Be Continued...

Robert J. Balzer at Viansa Winery

Originally uploaded by zhadi.
The second stop on Day Two - Viansa Winery. Robert looks ready to enjoy the experience. Which I'm gonna write about post haste! Or post hastily...

Cat with flowers - caution!!

Originally uploaded by zhadi.
Okay, there's nothing in this picture that needs a warning - Beezle (short for 'Hey There Little Beelzebuddy')is just enjoying a noseful (and probably a mouthful) of daisies and one of those flowers, the name of which always escapes me.

However, fellow cat loving friend recently sent me an article about lilies and the fact that the pollen can be deadly to cats. It can cause total kidney shutdown within 36 to 72 hours. So if you have felines with a flower fetish, leave the lilies out of your floral arrangements.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Friday Cat'n'Dog Blog

Boska and Foster
Originally uploaded by zhadi.
I'm a cat person. But Boska, the Rottweiler/Aussie Shepard mix that I got at the humane society, is the type of dog that even cats like! When she's happy, her entire backside wiggles - I call it the Lamboska or the Boskanova. She's living in Los Angeles with Brian right now...I'm gonna bring her up to visit and see how she likes walking on San Francisco beaches. Foster, who's living with me, would snuggle up to Boska and knead against her stomach.

Foster has several nicknames, most notably 'Bobble Head' (his blue eyes are slightly crossed, so when he looks at something, his head shakes ever so slightly back and forth like one of those bobble head toys in the back window of a car) and the Marshmallow Pig. He has a disconcerting habit of stalking some of the other cats (he has it in for Tsavo), fixing them with that blank blue-eyed gaze, and going after them as relentlessly as Michael Myer in "Halloween." Kind of a cross between a killer mime and The Terminator...

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Moving to San Francisco - The Prequel

I've moved several times over my 40-some odd years (some VERY odd years). The first move was only three days in duration (I had a fight with my dad and decided to take all my clothes and some of my furniture to a friend's house), but it gave me a preview of what a pain in the ass it is to relocate when you're a packrat.

Second time was actually to Berkeley with Chris, my then-fiance (a theatrical combat choreographer, first in the long line of swordsmen I've hooked up with...But that's another post!) and a high school friend, Debbie Lee. Having not learned from my three day hissy fit, I again took all of my clothes, including a substantial costume collection (and lemme tell you, Renaissance Faire gypsy costumes with ruffles take up a hell of a lot of room), and hogged all the closet space in the one bedroom house Debbie found in the cheap part of Berkeley, also known as 'the heroin district.'

That lasted all of two months, during which I spent most of my time: drinking white zinfandel out of a box with Debbie; hanging at Cafe Roma, across the street from campus, chowing down on croissants and white chocolate mochas, and people watching; or hanging out at American Fencers Supply with Chris. I was homesick and wanted to go back to San Diego. Yup, I wanted my mommy.

Back in San Diego, I stayed briefly with my parents, then found a place for me and Chris in Hillcrest, a teensy one-bedroom place off of an alley near the local Liquor Barn. It had no closet space to speak of and there was a hole in the bathroom floor. My cat, Zhadi, would stare down into the inky darkness for hours. It made me think of the well to hell in The Amityville Horror (you know, the movie where for some inexplicable reason Margot Kidder wears one legwarmer and a flower in her hair while her daughter communes with Jody the pig). The place was a pit, I was working full time at the IRS while Chris, between jobs, stayed home and smoked pot from morning till night (doing dishes was not in his repertoire either). It was definitely one of those life lesson experiences, even if I still insisted on keeping my entire wardrobe.

From there, I moved into a new apartment (and into a new relationship as well) about a mile east. There was ample room in the garage for my belongings that didn't fit into the spare bedroom and for once I had enough closet space. What I didn't have was common sense; if you're going to get involved with an actor while you're working together in a movie or play, wait and see if the relationship makes it past two months before cohabitation. On the other hand, if you're just not happy if you're not moving every few months, hey, follow my lead, Julia Roberts!
I was out of there in three months.*

*(Our professional relationship lasted a little longer; we'd been cast opposite each other as Amanda and Elliot in Noel Cowards "Private Lives." While I can't say that I actually took pleasure breaking a record over his head for 12 performances...oh,hell, yes I can. It was very satisfying and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Hah!)

Nursing a bit of a broken heart (the healing process was aided by the broken records), I moved back into my old room at my parent's house, clothes and costumes alike jammed into one small closet, my furniture back in my childhood habitat. Then, another apartment (in Clairemont/Mission Bay Park this time), and another relationship, this one leading to marriage. The living situation and engagement/marriage lasted about two years. Discovering that my husband was a bit of a sociopath was bad enough, but he was also a poser. Bad enough that he insisted on being called Julien Quire (his real name was Peter). But would anyone in their right mind (or someone not a 17 year old Goth with no sense of humor) want to stay with a man who thought it was cool to wear a fake Heidelberg dueling scar and vampire fangs in public? No, it was time to move on.

I moved up to Los Angeles to be with Brian. We'd met because of swords and swordfighting, hooking up at a Science Fiction Convention (yeah, yeah, I hear the Geek Alert Alarm going off) a few months before I married Peter. I was driving up to L.A. to see Brian practically every weekend, living on adrenaline and No-Doze. I was getting so little sleep that I'd hallucinate while awake. Luckily I was carpooling to work; seeing the freeway turn into desert and watching roadrunners jog alongside the car probably wouldn't have been nearly as interesting if I'd been driving. But it was clear that if I was going to date Brian, I had to move. It meant that I could give being an actress a real go, rather than just fantasize about what it would be like to be on the cover of People Magazine.

My relationship (including marriage) with Brian lasted over 17 years, longer than my career as a low budget movie actress. Not to say I didn't move during that time. I moved from a condo in Van Nuys to a funky building on Adams Avenue that had once been a theater. Would've stayed there longer, but my landlord (and longtime friend) started renting it out to porn companies. Nothing starts the day like waking up to the sound of simulated orgasm. Better than that first cup of java, folks! I didn't even want to think about what went on in the sauna, an amenity of the place that I'd enjoyed until the day I found a bottle of half-empty lube on the tiles. Yuck.

Back home to the parents yet again, this time to stay in a bedroom that'd been tucked into the garage, most of my stuff in storage. It was back to commuting back and forth to see Brian, although he spent more time driving down to San Diego than he had before. He had moved out from the condo and into a house in Glendale with some friends from college. We finally got engaged, they moved out, I moved in. I now had a three bedroom Craftsman style bungalow complete with backyard, storage shed, and a walk-in closet. I collected old steamer trunks for my costumes. My collection of antique glass finally came out of the boxes it'd been stored in for the last few years, displayed instead on built-in shelves in the large dining room. And the kitchen had enough cabinets for far more dishes than either I or Brian had acquired over the years. Finally, enough space for my stuff and his stuff, with room to spare.


There's some sort of law of physics that says, if there is empty space, it's only a matter of time before that space is filled. Empty bookshelf? Buy more books! Closets not stuffed full? Buy more clothes! We won't even talk about the knicknacks, toys, swords, pictures, CDs, videotapes, DVDs, cats...the list is both eccletic and endless. The thought of ever moving again wasn't just daunting; it seemed impossible without great flipping wodges of cash. Which we didn't have. And wouldn't, unless that big script sale happened (and that's another subject entirely). So we stayed and stagnated and collected stuff, while I ignored my growing dissatisfaction with my life and made all sorts of excuses why I couldn't leave.

I took things to Salvation Army, gave them away to friends, sold old childhood toys and vintage Victoria's Secret catalogs on Ebay. Did you know that an old Supergirl action figure can get you 80 bucks? Despite my efforts, by the time I made the decision to leave my marriage and move to San Francisco, the house was still crammed full of things. Sorting and packing, not to mention figuring out who was going to keep what, was the most daunting task I'd ever faced. Yeah, Sisyphus, stop whining about pushing that boulder up the hill and come try something REALLY hard, ya pansy!

And there wasn't enough red wine in the world to make it any easier...

To be continued...

Flippers for Feet

Originally uploaded by zhadi.
When I first got Scaramouche (referred to only as 'Mouche now), he was a tiny little thing that a friend found cowering under a pallet in her backyard, during a pouring rainstorm as her dogs tried to get at him. He was sick with ghiarrdia, a nasty intestinal infection which causes severe diarrhea (something about these words with 'iarr' in the spelling just ain't good for the digestive system) and made Mouche a smelly little gas bomb.

Even as scrawny and sickly as he was, Mouche's paws were always oversized. With his gold eyes and snow-shoe feet, he looked like a miniature lynx. I thought he'd be huge when he finished growing, but the rest of him has never really filled out to match those flippers. I am, however, happy to say that the feline flatulence has ceased.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

We Named the Monkey Shmoo...

We Named the Monkey Shmoo...
Originally uploaded by zhadi.
Part of the pain of moving is leaving behind friends and family...and pets. Brian got custody of Asmodeus, otherwise known as Shmoo (for reasons unexplained - I know Shmoos are traditionally white, but it just fits him). Shmoo's favorite trick, other than lurching towards anyone who sings the Night of the Living Dead music, is to leap without warning onto his dad's shoulder, where he'll roll, purr, knead, and generally ride around until deposited elsewhere. I miss them...

Wine Weekend, Part III

Like most wineries, V. Sattui is picturesque. Point of fact, I don't recall ever seeing a winery that wasn't picturesque. I think it's a law. But V. Sattui really is gorgeous - the main building that houses the winery is modeled after an Italian villa, complete with a courtyard dominated by a huge fountain. The tasting room is in a different building and in between are picnic grounds, where we were going to have our lunch.

First on the agenda, however, was a tour of the grounds by one of the winery staff. He took us out to the vineyards, showed us what it looks like when one rootstock is grafted onto a different variety (like most of the Napa vineyards, V. Sattui had its battle with phylloxera, that nasty little insect that feeds on grape roots). The weather was beautiful, the guide informative, but I started getting hot standing in the sun and was more than ready when we went inside to taste some Carsi chardonnay straight out of a stainless steel vat. Like many of the others on the tour (Gayle being an exception), I'm mainly a red wine drinker, but the Carsi was delicious. It was fruity and buttery at the same time. Gayle and I immediately agreed that we'd take a bottle of it home with us.

Next stop was the tasting room, where our group bellied up to and behind the tasting bar, which ran the length of the building. Greg joined me and Gayle, and somehow the three of us ended up with an extra glass, a fact that went unnoticed by our guide. So we got an extra pour of all the wines that we shared between us, depending on whether we liked the wine being poured. I didn't dislike any of them, but some, such as the Duarte Old Vines Zinfandel and that Carsi Chardonnay, were standouts. The Angelica, a fortified Muscat, was also delicious. We decided we needed a bottle of each of those, along with a bottle of the 2002 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet for Billy. The Morisoli can only be purchased at the winery and Billy likes big, lush cabernets, so it seemed like a good thank-you gift.

We had lunch outside at the picnic tables. Platters of pate, meat, cheese, bread and fruit were spread out for us, and a choice of white or red wine (if memory serves me correctly -- and it might not -- the wines were a Sauvignon Blanc and a Merlot) to go with the meal. Most of us had a little of each. Diets were not a concern on this trip so Gayle and I filled our plates with food and dug in. Gotta lay the base if you're gonna drink, after all. I'd say we both laid a pretty solid base, including some excellent chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

Stuffed on good food and wine, the group got back on the bus and we headed for our next stop: Quintessa.

Known exclusively for big, heavy Bordeaux blends, Quintessa lies in the Rutherford appellation of Napa and 'includes a valley, a lake, a river, five hills, four microclimates and various soil types.' It's a vineyard with a view, but it looks more like a military installation than a winery. I kept expecting armed guards appear. Some of the group went to look at the workings of the winery, while the rest of us went on a mini-hike up a hill to see the view. The guide told us that the owners used soil sensitive agricultural practices, including burying cow horns and then digging them up on specific days (I want to say summer solstice, but my notes are spotty and my handwriting lousy!) to make powder for fertilizer.

We went to the tasting room, where Robert and the rest of the group were already settled in with wine. The tasting room reminded me of a hotel lobby. We tasted the 1998 and 2001 vintages. Interestingly, while the 2001 was more immediately drinkable, the '98 was OH so good...When you think Quintessa, think big. Think lush. Think...yummy!

The last stop of the day was Cline. We arrived too late to do any shopping (a disappointment to the Henry gals, who are known for their shopping prowess), but had some nummy Hors de oeuvres (ahi on some sort of thin savory cracker) and did some barrel tasting before going into dinner. Oh, that dinner...The appetizer was scallops and clams in a clam sauce served in a clamshell, paired with a Viognier. Dinner was rack of lamb served with a delicious Mourvedre, one of my favorite wines. An Old Vine Zinfandel was also poured, and then a dessert wine, a Late Harvest Zin, to go with an apricot tart. Very good, very rich. Too rich for me. The only downside of Cline was that we couldn't buy any of the wine - they weren't set up to sell after the tasting room was closed. And I would definitely have taken some of the Mourvedre home with me.

Despite a brief argument between my stomach and dessert (my stomach lost) upon reaching the hotel, I was up for some time in the hot tub. Gayle and I joined Kevin, Greg, Roger and Jan in a hot tub that made me sympathize with lobsters. I went for a swim in the pool - the water felt like warm silk after the heated cauldron of a jacuzzi. A perfect end to Day Number One.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

How Weird Street Fair

How Weird Dave & Dana
Originally uploaded by zhadi.
Howard Street Fair, otherwise known as the How Weird Street Fair, is mini-Carnivale/Mardis Gras meets Rave, with music set up at least a half dozen places in the two/three blocks closed off to form the perimeters of the event. Hard to miss it - the sound of throbbing techno beat can be heard from blocks away.

If you wear a costume, admission is 5 bucks. If you don't, it's free. Sometimes hard to tell what's a costume and what's not - this IS a place where dreadlocks and tie-dye meet, breed and replicate.

There are beer booths set up, but you'd better like Red Tail Ale. If not, there are a number of little restaurants within the site, including a yummy little wine/beer bar with bite sized snacks, like the mini ahi tacos I had, along with an amazing glass of Zinfandel from Amador County.

This photo was taken near the end of the day when things had died down, but at the height of it, we could barely walk through the crowds of dancers, drinkers, people on stilts, faux fur barbarians, dandies, pot smokers and vendors.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Wine weekday - Part II

The weekend began Friday morning. The original plan was that I would meet Billy and the rest of the group at the Oakland Airport at 9:30am, where the tour bus would pick us up. Unfortunately, Billy became ill the week before the trip and couldn't go. He offered his place to my sister, but it was too short a notice for her to get a cat sitter. So I asked both my my roommate, Gayle, to be my 'date' for the weekend. She was developing an interest in wine (I like to think I'm a good influence on my friends!). Also, she had shouldered a huge part of the financial burden of the move to San Francisco and never made me feel bad about it. It would be nice (via Billy's generosity), to be able to share this unique opportunity with her.

We arrived at the airport with time to spare, sat outside of the Southwest baggage claim, and sipped airport cappuccinos while waiting for our group to arrive. I scanned the crowds, looking for familiar faces, but wasn't seeing any. Luckily Carol, the wonder woman who organized the entire trip, recognized me as one of Billy's 'girlfriends', and quickly greeted us, along with three other first-timers: Greg, an engineer for Boeing, and a married couple, Roger and Jan.

The five of us newbies talked for a few minutes, that tentative, slightly uncomfortable type of conversation that you get at parties when the hosts throw you together (Mike, meet Frieda! Frieda's an activist and Mike's a lawyer, I'm sure you two have plenty in common!) that inevitably ends up with "So...seen any good movies lately?" (Okay. We did have wine in common, but you know what I mean. And we DID talk about movies!)

The tour bus arrived, a large, air-conditioned behemoth complete with a bathroom in the back. True, it was teeny (the term 'water closet' really works), but hey, it was a functioning bathroom. And considering the planned activities for the weekend (drinking and eating, repeat as necessary), that was a good thing!

The bus driver's name was Malcolm. Originally from England, Malcolm's been the driver for Robert's fieldtrips for several years running (I never did find out how many) and was on first name basis with most of the attendees. He loaded the luggage while the passengers boarded. Most people had their regular seats. Robert always sat in the first row, driver's side, while Dr. Palmer, another regular, sat across from him. The first few rows were for those with a susceptibility to motion sickness (like me), while the rowdier contingent sat in the back. Billy always sat in the back, I was told. So did William, another larger than life personality with a perpetually red face and trademark collection of wine themed Aloha shirts. Part of me felt that I should follow tradition, sit in the back in honor of Billy. But somehow I didn't think he'd consider me throwing up all over the bus much of a tribute. Gayle and I sat in the third row, right in back of an ice chest packed full of champagne. I thought Billy would understand my choice.

We were all given a number; at the end of each stop, we'd sound off in order to insure no one got left behind (every time we did the count, I had to stop myself from saying 'I am not a number! I am a human being!' a la The Prisoner). I was 15, Gayle was 8.

The champagne was uncorked almost immediately after we hit the road. Plastic champagne flutes were handed out and the bubbly began flowing. Sitting back as the bus headed north, sipping Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir sparkling wine (can't call it champagne if it's not from Champagne, France), watching the landscape shift from urban sprawl to bucolic countryside...what a great way to spend a Friday morning.

The bus had an audio system with a microphone, so as we drove, Robert would occasionally impart bits of information about the passing scenery, such as the Takara sake factory in Berkeley, and, after we hit wine country, a Who's Who of the wineries we passed. If someone made too much noise while Robert was talking, he'd pause briefly and say the same thing he always said in class: "I'm an old-fashioned teacher. When I'm talking, you're not."

Trust me when I say that Robert has the power to make a grown man or woman feel like an unruly 12 year old. Hey, give a busload of grownups enough champagne before lunch and there's not much difference!

Gayle and I got to know some of the passengers, including Barb and Stacy Henry (referred to as 'the Henry girls), a mother and daughter who sat behind us. Barb had brought homemade Spam sushi to share. Sounds weird, I know, but it was delicious. Carol and her husband sat across from them. He had an iPod and was very happily off in his own world for most of the ride. Across from us was another couple that'd been coming on these trips for several years (I want to say that her first name is Jan, but I'm not sure). We drank more champagne and talked about Billy, past field trips, my and Gayle's move up to the Bay Area.

All in all, the bus ride was pleasant, but we were all there for the same reason: by the time we pulled up to V. Sattui Winery, the first scheduled stop on our itinerary, we were all ready to do some wine tasting!

To be continued...

Ghost in the Darkness

machiavelli cat
Originally uploaded by zhadi.
Supposedly cats who've been bottle-fed develop stronger bonds with their human parents. I don't know about that, but I DO know that my first experience with bottle feeding produced a feline with a psychotic personality and a sense of entitlement that makes Paris Hilton look selfless. When he was an adorable little kitten, he was called The Bumble. As his personality developed, we called him Bedlam. Then, when he hit six months and started dragging stuffed animals and furry blankets across the house and hiding them under a luggage rack (his den), he became Tsavo. Tsavo, btw, for those of you who haven't seen the Michael Douglas/Val Kilmer film, Ghost in the Darkness, is the place in Africa where two male lions killed over 140 railroad workers, dragging their bodies off into the night to a cave. I'm not saying my Tsavo would ever do anything that drastic...but he sure holds a grudge...
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