Zhadi's Den

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Like most of the country (with the notable exception of our golf-loving President) I've been reading and watching all the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, at first hopeful that the aftermath wouldn't be as bad as predicted, then the devastation she's caused in the South...the town of Biloxi all but wiped off the map, New Orleans slowly vanishing beneath water, the man who couldn't hold onto his wife and had to watch her disappear into the floodwaters, all the people still waiting to be rescued, the animals...

I feel ill. I've always wanted to visit New Orleans, but never got the chance. Now I never will, at least not the way it was. That's a selfish thought, I know, but I mourn the history that's being wiped out, along with people's lives, property and sense of security.

I don't have a lot of extra money or a secure job situation, but I did send a donation to one of the animal rescue organizations that go in after disasters. Depending on your view of the importance of animals, some people may think this is wasted money, but as a pet owner, I know that if I lost everything I owned, but someone saved one of my animals and I got it back...that'd be enough to keep me going. I'd like to donate several boxes of very good clothing that I was going to sell, but so far all of the relief organizations are asking for money - with the hike in the price of gas, shipping items is going to be too expensive to be practical. If anyone hears of any place accepting donations of clothing or household items, please let me know. The link above, btw, is a comprehensive list of different types of relief organizations, not just the ones related to animals.

Not much else to say other than the post I was going to write about special occasions and celebrations will have to wait for another day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Sand Cat

Sand Cat
Originally uploaded by zhadi.
I've got a case of the writing blahs and this picture is how I feel - like barely poking my head out of bed to view the world VERY warily...

So just a note and a picture to say that I'll be back up and blogging as soon as I can.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Mother and Son, Part Two

Originally uploaded by zhadi.
He looks very pleased with himself, doesn't he? We used to be able to go in the enclosure with Caesar...he was a rambunctious little thing, though, and what's cute and manageable in a six month old tiger cub, is scary and potentially hazardous to your health when he gets bigger.

Mother and Son

Originally uploaded by zhadi.
This is Caesar, a tiger of indeterminate origin, and my adopted son. I saw him this past weekend at the Feline Follies, one of EFBC's annual fundraisers. He obviously still remembers me even though I'm not out there as often as I'd like. I got a kiss out of him, not to mention some tiger spit. It's not as gross as it sounds, actually...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Fight or Flight

I recently started going to a chiropractor in San Francisco. This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but when it comes to changing doctors in any field, be it dentistry, chiropractic, voodoo, whatever, I'm a big wimp. I like the comfort and familiarity of knowing pretty much exactly what to expect every time I go to get my teeth, eyes or spine alignment checked. No surprises! For instance, I'm still seeing the same dentist I've had since I was a kid -- and he took over the practice from the dentist that first took a look at my pearly whites. Dr. Haag is located in San Diego and I moved to Los Angeles in 1990.

Fine. Not so big a deal since we usually get our teeth cleaned twice a year at most. Same deal with getting our eyes checked. And since I had that done in February, I'm good for at least six months.

But chiropractic adjustments...that's a whole other story. I'm used to getting an adjustment at least twice a month, sometimes more, depending on the assorted traumas I put my body through. Since I moved to SF in March, I managed to sneak back down to Los Angeles twice to see my chiro...and I'd probably still be doing that on a monthly basis had Dr. Gibbons, the man who's been cracking my back and neck for 15 years, up and quit the business.

I believe my reaction was something like Darth Vader's in the last Star Wars movie... "NO-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-!!!!!!! With fists clenched skyward, of course.

Find another chiro? Trust some stranger to grab my neck and twist like some cheap ninja neck-breaking move? No way! So I made do with stretching exercises and Alieve, ignoring my increasing discomfort and numerous migraines, the fact that sciatic pain in one or both sides of my lower back would wake up from a sound sleep nearly every night. No, no, really, I'm fine. It's just...a phase I'm going through.

Two Sundays ago I was putting shoes away (yes, I'm still unpacking) and sprained my back. Specifically I sprained the intercostel muscle, the one that wraps around into your rib cage. If you've pulled or sprained it, you'll know exactly the one I'm talking about. It hurts to breath, let alone move. One minute I'm putting shoes on the closet floor. The next minute I'm frozen in a squatting position, arms stretched midway between me and the closet, a pair of shoes dangling from my fingers. Couldn't talk without my breath hitching between each word, couldn't move without help. When I tried to breathe into the pain, it felt like every muscle in my left shoulder was coiling up into a tight little ball, expanding and contracting and sending excruciating, unending bolts of lightning through my body.

Can I just say 'ouch?'

I now have a very nice chiropractor, a woman, who is just as personable and proficient as Dr. Gibbons. She wasn't just interested in the physical symptoms, but asked me a lot of questions about my personal history and whether or not I'd been under any unusual stress the last few months. After my maniacal laughter died down, I gave her the list of major life changing stresses (she says I covered all major five on the list) and she then proceeded to explain why it was possible that I sprained my back while setting down a pair of shoes and why something called Cortisol was affecting my ability to drop the inch I'd gained around my waist since moving to the City of Too Many Good Restaurants.

Evidently I've been in a state of Fight or Flight (also known as the SaberTooth Tiger Around the Corner syndrome) for at least six months, possibly longer. I'm now on a uber-nutritional supplement to get my digestive system back in gear, and I'll be on another supplement to combat that nasty old cortisol. I'm getting regular massage and adjustments, plus a regimen of breathing exercises to deal with the stress of a living situation that allows me very little, if any, time alone (and I'm used to a lot of it), an unstable job, a creative slump, and all the other stresses of life. I'm hoping that it starts to work before I crack...or crack someone's skull with a handy blunt instrument. Let's just say that my temper is a wee bit off the handle these days...

According to an article on a website called About:

"The so-called "stress hormone" cortisol is released in the body during times of stress along with the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine that constitute the "fight or flight" response to a perceived threat. Following the stressful or threatening event, epinephrine and norepinephrine levels return to normal while cortisol levels can remain elevated over a longer time period. In fact, cortisol levels can remain persistently elevated in the body when a person is subjected to chronic stress." It also increases and keeps abdominal fat, btw.

In this state of constant fight or flight, a person's body doesn't heal. It's doing all it can just to survive and keep organs functioning. The body can't absorb the nutritional elements it needs to be healthy. Hair becomes dry and brittle no matter what type of products are used. The skin becomes dull, and Oil of Olay ain't helping. Little injuries, rips in the muscles, inefficient digestion, a number of small, sometimes imperceptible problems, occur. "Gee, look at that pulled leg muscle," says the body. "Sorry, leg, don't have time for you right now! I have to keep this heart pumping! You'll just have to be a little more careful until I can get back to you."

Of course, there is no 'getting back' unless the stress can be alleviated, the cortisol levels reduced, and the body can absorb the necessary nutrients to regain and keep it healthy. And people wonder why, after years of no symptoms, they suddenly develop cancer or some other life threatening illness, or their summer cold takes a sharp left turn into pneumonia. "But I was perfectly healthy!" you say. No, you were just surviving.

According to a recent study, 90 percent of America's population is constantly poised, waiting for that Saber Tooth Tiger to come around the corner. Stress is a constant factor in our lives, with a limited understanding of just how potentially deadly it can be. I have to wonder how much of this stress is a direct result of the aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11 and the current presidential administration's efforts to keep America in an unending state of fear. Bush's war on terror. I believe they want us to be scared so we'll support the war in Iraq, not pay attention to the slow yet steady erosion of personal freedom and environmental protection. And even if I'm just being paranoid about the administration's motives, the affect on the majority of Americans is the same; we're always waiting for that other shoe to drop.

And this pisses me off.

Sure, our world is in a state of chaos. There are terrorists out there, crazy people willing to kill themselves to insure a place in heaven or get laid by numerous virgins. We know that. But we sure as hell don't need our government keeping those stress embers burning and effectively reducing 90 percent of its populations health to the equivalent of walking time bombs.

My favorite quote is "A life lived in fear is a life half lived." Evidently that can be taken quite literally.

I'm not saying that we don't all create and sustain a certain amount of our personal stress. I know a lot of people who thrive on drama, who consistantly refuse to take care of themselves. They create their own problems and stubbornly refuse to change bad habits. But I know more people who genuinely desire to affect positive change in their lives, to lose weight, be positive instead of chronically negative, who do most, if not all, of the right things. And they're still living in state of chronic flight or fight. Myself included.

So I hereby now officially blame George W. for my tummy fat.

Friday, August 12, 2005


The latest batch of jaguar baby photos...all taken by Nancy Vandermey from EFBC/FCC

Long Neck Wines

When I was back in Michigan last December, my sister-in-law, Sue, offered me a glass of Long NeckShiraz, a wine out of South Africa. "It's only five bucks a bottle!" she told me. Sue loves a good bargain.

Now I am not a wine snob. True, I've moved beyond Beringer white zinfandel, once the wine of choice for me and Mo when we worked on various writing projects (we wrote an entire script for one of our MFH shows while giggling and schnockered on white zin), and I'm not a fan of the ubiquitous Two Buck Chuck (liked the first batch, but the quality became inconsistent. No big shock considering the quantity they produce). But I still believe that good wines don't necessarily always come with high price tags.

True, some of the less expensive shiraz's and syrahs and blends that I've had from Australia seem kind of bland to me...pleasant enough, but just...boring. Like drinking high octane berry-grape juice. None of the interesting aromas and flavors of the more complex wines, the kind of complexity that makes me want to linger over a glass for an hour or so (hey, it's happened!) instead of downing it like soda. And the only other South African wine that I've tried (I've long since forgotten the name or the varietal) tasted like vinegar, so I wasn't expecting much from the Long Neck. I mean, this was Michigan, where you pay 20 bucks for a wine you can get for less than $10 in California. Five bucks? South African? No thanks!

Boy, was I pleasantly surprised when I got my first whiff of the Long Neck shiraz...old raspberries, loamy, dark berry aromas (don't ask what other kind of berries, please. Dark ones!), with a slight spiciness that was usually missing from the cheap shirazes I'd tried. I took a sip and yup, the taste lived up to the aroma, with a heavy mouthfeel and...lo and behold, a finish! The flavor and feel didn't just vanish in the mouth after swallowing. Wow.

I raved about the wine to Sue, who was, I think, most gratified with my response. We polished off the bottle that evening and I insisted on going to Meijers and buying more. Five bucks a bottle? Booyah! I had much Long Neck shiraz that trip and brought a bottle back to California with me. Then, being fickle in my wine buying, I promptly forgot about it until a recent email exchange with Sue (she rhapsodized about the taste sensation of pairing chicken marsala with the shiraz) reminded me of just how much I like this particular wine. So I went on a hunt for it up here in the Bay Area.

Imagine my surprise and chagrin when I couldn't find it. I mean, I can get this in Michigan, fer crissake! Michigan, land of limited wine choices! Unless you like cherry wine and then you're in luck. But here in California, NORTHERN California, WINE country California, Napa, Sonoma, Anderson Valley...where, oh where, was the signature giraffe logo of Long Neck?

So I went online and found the website (linked above) for Long Neck. Sent them an email inquiry asking where I could find my beloved Long Neck shiraz in San Francisco. I got a response from Andrew, who works for their supplier here in California. Talk about public relations! Not only did he apologize for not being able to find anyone who sold Long Neck in my area, but gave me the names of two stores that would order it AND brought me some Long Neck (and other wines supplied by his company) from his distributor when his work brought him to San Francisco.

Even better than the wine, however, was a chance to meet a really nice person, fellow wine geek and interesting conversationalist. After working in Hollywood for so many years, you get used to players, to people who always have hidden motives, who want something from you. It's refreshing to be reminded that there are just some good people out there. All this from a simple email inquiry.

Well, okay, he did want something. In return for the wine I have been charged the task of being an ambassador for Long Neck, which will require going to wine stores and wine bars, and asking if they carry the wine. No, no, don't make me go into wine bars and wine stores! Don't throw me in that thar briar patch, B'rer Wine Man!

At any rate, to start my job as Long Neck ambassador (ambassadress?), I hereby charge you, all of my wine loving compatriots, to try Long Neck Shiraz (and other varietals) if you can find it. Look for the giraffe on the bottle. And if you can't, ask why not! Don't worry, I'll share my wine with you.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Chain Letters

I've never liked chain letters. Remember back in the days before computers and the excitement of getting a real letter in the mail? Then you'd open it and find a lousy chain letter. Chain letters in the old days were usually typed on carbon paper, thin and smudgy. They would say something like, "Send a copy of this letter to 10 people and your dearest wish will come true!"

Sometimes they'd promise money. "Send a dollar to the person who's name is on the bottom of the list. When your name reaches the bottom, you'll receive one hundred dollars!" Or a thousand or whatever...I could never figure out the math or the logistics.

No matter what carrot on the stick each chain letter offered, the thing that always got me was the threat; the bad cop to the promised rewards good cop. It was always some variation of 'if you break the chain, you'll have bad luck for the rest of your life.' Or 'If you don't send this letter to five people within 10 days, you'll die!'

The same bozo that invented chain letters probably also came up with childhood game of 'step on a crack, break your mother's back. ' Superstitious and emotional blackmail, pure and simple. It really pissed me off, even as a kid.

Despite a healthy dose of superstition, I didn't send out a lot of chain letters. Too much like doing homework. After all, while I tried to be careful and avoid cracks in the sidewalk, my mom didn't have much in the way of back pain back in those days. And the few times I did let myself get sucked into the chain letter game, I didn't notice any increase in good luck or receive any money. Of course, maybe the promised good luck was cancelled out by the bad luck caused by breaking the chain of so many other chain letters...or not.

These days, thanks to email and the convenience of cutting and pasting text, chain letters are much easier to send than they were in the days when your choices were typing out five to 10 copies on a typewriter without correct-o-tape, or the hazards of carbon copies, which were even more unforgiving of typos.

I still hate them.

Not only do they clog up cyberspace, but now they also have expanded to include inspirational stories, ones too saccharine even for Reader's Digest. "Send this inspirational story to 20 of your dearest friends and make their day!" How many of us actually have '20 dearest friends' anyway? And if we did, do we really want to piss them off by sending them a chain letter? How about 'send this to 20 people that you barely know and don't care if they get irritated by this and really hate you?'

There are chain emails to inspire female solidarity with a series of inspirational quotes by famous women. I like the quotes, but hate being told to 'send to 10 strong women and let you know you appreciate them.' I'll send them if I feel like it, thank you very much! And only if I think the recipient will appreciate me sending them.

There are the ones warning people of various perils, "This really happened to a friend of a friend of my aunt! Pass this on and warn your loved ones!" Most of these, if not all, are urban legends. Cyber hoaxes invented by people with a sick sense of humor and way too much time on their hands.

And then, like the one I received today, there are the classic chain emails that tell you to "scroll down, make a wish and oooh, scary, the phone will ring as soon as you finish! You'll get your wish in the same number of minutes as your age! Really! It works!" As you scroll, you get little stories that are the equivalent of product endorsement 'I did this and got a new job 25 minutes after I made my wish! I'm 25 years old!' along with 'wait for it...keep scrolling...almost there!' And of course: "Send this to five of your friends or you'll have bad luck for the rest of your life."

I'll tell you who's gonna have bad luck -- the person who sent me this stupid email 'cause I'm gonna beat the crap out of 'em the next time I see them.

Now send this blog to 10 of your closest friends...or else.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

"A Leopard Sat On My Feet" - A True Tale of Terror

(Photo by Nancy Vandermey)

No, this isn't another gratuitous cute animal picture post. I mean, it IS a cute picture, but I'm not just being lazy, posting a picture and walking away without writing anything substantial.

I admit to being all about posting pictures of the feline residents of EFBC-FCC these days, but hey, I miss it. It was a huge part of my life for six years; for the first four years, I rarely missed a Saturday volunteering out at the compound.

This is Tao, an 11 year old North Chinese leopard. When I started working at EFBC, he was five years old and had the temperament -- and some of the mannerisms -- of a good-natured dog. Tao had been hand-raised by Sandy (EFBC's General Manager and surrogate mother to the babies that can't be mother-raised). He'd been a sickly baby and had needed a lot of extra attention and nursing, so Tao not only passed into puberty with an unusually sanguine temperament, but also a mother fixation rivaling Norman Bates. He'd be in the middle of leopard sex with his mate, Ran (a sexy little North Chinese leopard from a zoo in France), Sandy would walk outside, and Tao would abandon Ran to play hide and seek with his 'mother.'

Yes, hide and seek. "Where's Tao?" Sandy would say, walking up to the steel mesh walls of the enclosure. Tao, in the meantime, had found a rock or a log to hide behind. He'd peer over or around the edge of his cover, wait until Sandy turned her back to the cage, then gallop out at top speed to 'ambush' her by leaping up, front paws hooked into the mesh, nose pressing through the gaps to give Mom a kiss. "There's Tao!" was the signal for him to drop back down, rubbing back and forth against the bars so Sandy could scritch his side, head, chin, tail, and belly.

Ran, in the meantime, would sulk at the back of the enclosure, a big thought balloon that hissed "Slut!" floating above her head. As soon as Sandy left, Ran immediately rubbed against any part of the cage that she (Sandy) had touched to obscure the scent of man-stealing human with eau d' leopard.

Tao was one of the few full grown leopards that we went in with while cleaning. Ran was easy to lure into their den, but nine times out of 10 Tao refused to go inside. So, after locking Ran in the den, one person would go in to clean while someone else (preferably Sandy) distracted Tao from outside the enclosure. Tao loved attention and usually sat there blissfully receiving scritches as long as someone gave them. If he had enough, he'd roll onto his back and sprawl at the edge of the cage. In the meantime, the person inside raked up the poo, cleaned any excess foliage out of the pond so the pump wouldn't clog, and then quietly exited the enclosure. Sometimes Tao would glance at whoever was cleaning, but he was usually too busy soaking up adoration to care.

The first time I went inside with Tao, I was kind of nervous. Not scared; I wouldn't have gone in with him if I'd been scared because of all I'd heard about animals sensing and reacting to fear. But I'd be lying (and an idiot) if I said I wasn't apprehensive about the thought of being in an enclosure with a full grown leopard with claws and teeth intact. Tao was taught at a very early age to stay back from the business end of a rake (we were supposed to bop him on his nose if he got aggressive), but occasionally he would test someone the first time they went in with him. Testing Tao style involved intimidation and he'd actually run someone out of the enclosure. He hadn't attacked, but had kept advancing despite the threat of the rake.

And let's do the math here: Who is Mas Macho? Soft-fleshed human wielding a cheap rake or a leopard if he decided to attack? Every time I locked the door to the enclosure behind me after I'd finished cleaning, my heart beat a little faster and I'd heave a sigh of relief. Yup, I was very aware of my mortality when I went in with Tao that first time...and every time after that.

The first few times I cleaned Tao & Ran's enclosure, he stayed over at the side for his scritches. Then one day he decided to come over and check out my cleaning job. I never turned my back on him, kept the rake between us, and he was content to wander back over to whoever was paying him court that morning. And then came that memorable day when Tao decided that attention from the outside of the cage wasn't cutting it.

I remember it very clearly. I was raking in between the pond and a big log, keeping one eye on Tao and the other on the work, while Tao was visiting with Sandy at the front of the enclosure. Without warning, he suddenly jumped to his feet and very deliberately walked over to me, bumped the rake aside with his head, turned around and stepped onto on my feet with his hind paws. I have no idea why I wasn't terrified, but I sure as hell was surprised.

"Uh...Sandy? What...um...should I be worried?"

"Nah. He wants you to scratch his back."

Somewhat reassured by Sandy's confident reply, I scratched Tao's back for a few minutes, then slowly tried to extract one foot from underneath his paw. He promptly settled back and sat on my feet, just like my dog when she didn't want me to go anywhere.

I was in a quandary here. On one hand, here I was, in close quarters with -- and petting -- a leopard. It didn't get much cooler than that. On the other hand, how was I going to get out of there if Tao decided he didn't want me to go? When I shoved my dog off my feet, the only repercussion was a reproachful look. If I tried that with Tao, would I have any feet left?

Five minutes (and 10 numb toes) later, I gave a tentative push. To my relief, Tao allowed me to have my feet back...although he did give me a reproachful look as he walked away. I left the enclosure, both incredibly jazzed and hugely relieved.

A year or so later, Tao went after one of the keepers when she raked up a piece of chicken from the previous day's dinner. She used the rake to good effect and got out of the enclosure in one piece, which would indicate Tao wasn't necessarily serious about hurting her. He just didn't want her taking his chicken. But it was also the first time he'd seriously charged anyone, a reminder that Tao, hand-raised and amiable or not, was a leopard. And it was enough of a scare to put paid to any of the volunteers going in with him in the future.

I was content to stay out of there. By that time, Tao had sat on my feet more than once, and I'd experienced the same combination of exhilaration and relief every time. I'm not an adrenaline junkie and, while I'd never blame any of the cats if I got hurt, I'd rather not leave this world via evisceration by large feline. But I'm so glad I had the experience...and that I never had to test out that rake.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Annie's Babies

Are they not the cutest things in the world? (And if you don't agree, don't bother saying anything...) This is the male...
Definitely trouble on the hoof...or on the paw, as it were...

This is the female...she has her mother's sweet face (yes, they really do all have individual expressions and features). Let's see if she gets her affectionate personality too...

Photos by Nancy Vandermey
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