Married to the Empire

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The IV Chronicles

We gave Calvin an IV last night, as he'd spent the day hiding in the closet. (That's one of his I-don't-feel-good behaviors.) He was also very quiet yesterday, which also signals that he's feeling yucky. He likes to talk a lot, so quiet days are worrisome.

We bring him into the guest bathroom and plop him on the counter to administer the fluids. I have to scruff him to keep him calm and still while Steven preps the IV and sticks him. (I had to warn Steven the first time that Calvin screams like a little girl whenever he has needles stuck in him. I'm used to it since I'm always the one to bring him to the vet, but Steven didn't know, and I was afraid he'd be freaked if he stuck the cat, and the cat screamed.) But last night, Calvin only flinched. No yelling.

However, fluids started running all over my hand. I started yelling, "He leaking! HE'S LEAKING!" Steven leaped on the cat to figure out what was going on. I told him he must have poked the needle into him, then stuck it right back out another spot. So, he fumbled a bit with the needle, pulling it back slightly, and the cat was now getting fluids inside him rather than outside.

Meanwhile, Doogie had followed us into the bathroom. He's so utterly clueless about just about everything. Dumb, but blissfully happy. He jumped up on the counter and seemed oblivious to what was going on with Calvin. He started rubbing his nose on the sink faucet, which is his signal that he wants it turned on so that he can drink from the sink. He kept turning around and looking at me like, "Mommy! Stop giving all the attention to Calvin! I want some water!" Then he started to walk by Calvin so that I'd be sure to see him. I was worried he was going to bump Calvin's needle, but he didn't. (Note to self: Lock Doogie out of bathroom next time.)

Calvin did well through most of his IV, but he started fussing towards the end. We finished the IV, Steven removed it, and we let the boys out of the bathroom. Poor Steven kept saying, "I poked a hole in my cat! I poked a hole in my cat!" He felt soooo bad about the leaking incident. I reminded him that Calvin didn't even cry, so it's okay. But he spent the rest of the evening beating himself up over it.

Life is never dull around here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Prayer seems to be my spiritual theme for the year, so I decided to make a banner for the mantel. This has actually been on my to-do list for several months, as I always miss the dressed-up look of the mantel once I remove the Christmas garland in January. Just as well that I waited, as I'm not sure that I knew back in January just how prevalent prayer was going to become in 2010. (And I realize that totally sounds bad--it's not like I didn't pray before; I just didn't focus on it the way I am now. My latest book on the subject is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible.)

I used only supplies I already had, and the letters are done by hand.

The ribbon, in my opinion, is important. I don't like banners done with skimpy or cheap ribbon. Yes, I'm a ribbon snob. I found this fabulous big roll of ribbon for a song in the clearance aisle of Hobby Lobby several months ago. My cheap little secret for securing it all on the hooks on the mantel: twist ties. I made loops for hanging by simply cinching the ribbon with twist ties. Then I ran those same twist ties through the backs of the bows. Easy peasy.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Missions May

Steven and I had been planning to do a missions focus with our youth for quite some time, and we finally did that in what we called Missions May. We personally support The Voice of the Martyrs; it's a ministry we're passionate about, and we're honored to help a pastor in Vietnam. We decided to highlight VOM's ministry to persecuted Christians around the world.

Our goal was not to get people signed up with monthly commitments, as we're dealing with teens, most of whom do not have a personal source of income. (Don't get me started on youth camps and conferences where a certain other ministry peddles monthly support commitments to students. It angers me to have the kids given a presentation meant to make them emotional, then sign up for commitments. It's very hard to be a youth leader and stop kids to ask them first if their parents will be okay with this. Puts us in a very difficult position!) While I did share my story of answered prayer in regards to supporting a pastor, we didn't offer that sort of thing up as an option to the students.

Our goal was to open their eyes to the plight of Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. We made them aware of what was going on, then we took some very simple steps towards helping.

One, we prayed for them. The apostle Paul himself wrote letters to people thanking them for their prayers while he was imprisoned. It helps, even if it doesn't seem like much to the one doing the praying.

Two, we wrote letters. VOM makes it very easy to do so. Go to this website and follow the instructions. The only cost is the 98 cents for a stamp to send a letter internationally. We didn't feel bad about asking kids for $1 donations to cover the cost of a stamp. For our students, $1 is not even a sacrifice. How privileged are we?

Three, we involved our entire church. Steven arranged for a VOM representative to visit our church yesterday and talk to our congregation in place of our regular sermon. It was an unbelievably moving experience to see actual video of Christians being persecuted, as well as the joy they experienced as they received smuggled bibles. I think every single person in our church realized in that moment just how much we take the Word of God for granted. Very humbling experience, indeed.

Our entire church, including the children's department got involved with sending postcards to a particular prisoner in China. Again, how very little the $1 donation for postage is for our privileged congregation. And how precious to see that the children even donated their dollars and signed postcards, even if their "signature" was nothing more than a scribble with their names added by a teacher.

Overall, our little church is sending 140 letters and postcards to prisoners. Those letters serve a dual purpose: encouragement for the prisoners and pressure for the authorities to let them go. Our hope is that this won't be a one-time deal for our students. And to make sure that we don't let go of our fervor that we've picked up recently, we plan to make parachutes this summer that will be used to drop Christians materials into dangerous parts of Columbia.

It doesn't take much to make a difference.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fear, Frustration, and a Need for Cold Air

The weather's been heating up around here, but we never turn on the air conditioner without having it checked first. Several years ago I was horribly sick with chronic hives, swollen joints, disfigured face, constant upper respiratory infections. I had days I couldn't walk, other days I couldn't grip anything. Four specialists, multiple prescriptions, allergy testing, ER visits, having to carry an Epi-pen, wiped out savings from all the medical bills... and no one could figure out what was wrong.

And then we had a seasonal check-up of our air conditioner.

We'd never done it before, and it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. Turned out to be the best decision. We had a freon leak. A massive one. (We got a second opinion, which confirmed it.) We put in a new system, and my symptoms started to dissipate shortly after.

Last week during our annual AC check-up, another leak was discovered. Fear gripped me, and I almost started crying right there in front of the AC guy. I immediately called Steven at work and freaked out on him. The thought of being so sick again had me panicked, and my husband promised me that he wouldn't let it happen again.

Things got complicated. R-22 is being phased out due to global warming, so new systems no longer use it. Our AC guy was telling us that we'd have to replace the entire system, not just the air handler where the leak was located. Things went downhill from there because part of his whole-system hard sell was to tell us what garbage our old system is. Repeatedly.

We looked for a new company.

We started calling around for estimates and ran into some issues with companies not calling back. Meanwhile, the house was getting hotter and hotter, and poor Steven was coming home to a cranky, lethargic wife every night. So many days of that was becoming unbearable, especially as I was stuck at home waiting for promised phone calls that never came.

We came to an agreement with a company who said they could put in a new air handler with a universal coil, which means it can support R-22 and the newer R-410. This means we can wait to replace our outdoor unit, which saves us money. Air conditioners are expensive, after all.

I waited all afternoon for them. They called to say they were running late. They called again to say they were running even later. They finally showed up around 8pm. And were missing a part. My sweet husband, who saw that I was at my breaking point, told them he expected to see them first thing in the morning.

They did show up first thing--we were still in bed. Steven threw on clothes to answer the door. Doogie was throwing up in the entryway just as Steven was opening the door. That distracted Steven enough for Calvin to sneak past him and escape to the great outdoors. Doogie ran and hid under the couch because strangers are scary, and Steven had to fish Calvin out of the bushes in the back yard. Calvin had feathers stuck to his paw, and I'm desperately hoping he just found feathers on the ground and didn't attack a bird. Not a good start to the day.

But by noon, we had cold air again. And no freon leaking into the house. Totally worth the hassle. But I fear May 2010 is rivaling May 2009.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sick Pet Savings

Several weeks ago I read an article in an email newsletter I subscribe to. It was about the cost of pets. There was one glaring problem with the article: the author had only been a pet owner for 3 years. He covered the costs of pet care when the pet is healthy and nothing is unusual, but he left out emergencies and illnesses. He naively said that he believes in letting pets go when it's their time. I actually agree with that last statement, but it completely left out the in-between from disease diagnosis to death. Rarely do illnesses just happen suddenly and take a life. As with humans, they're often prolonged ordeals. And that gets expensive.

It's been nearly 2 years since our cat Calvin was diagnosed with kidney disease. His care started off simply enough with just a prescription diet, but then he kept getting bladder infections that required antibiotics and frequents tests. As his kidney function has declined, the medications have stacked up: blood pressure meds, glucosamine, a drug to help his kidney function, a daily antibiotic to try to stave off his infections, and now even saline IVs.

Additionally, his kidney and bladder problems cause him to use the litterbox way more than he used to. We fly through bags of litter at the speed of light. We use a fairly expensive litter, and now we've added a second, even more expensive litter to the mix. Our costs have skyrocketed, but it's not like we can just not give him what he needs.

I've had to seek out ways to save on his costs. There's really no way to save on vet bills themselves unless the vet's office is running a monthly special, like 15%-off blood work every October. (Our vet does this.) But I can save on some of the medications. I wrote last year about enrolling Calvin in the discounted drug program at CVS. That's saved us a ton of money on his blood pressure pills. I've found his kidney-function pills and glucosamine on Amazon from pet-med sellers there. It's the same stuff I get from the vet, but it's considerably less expensive. The only drawback I've run into is that the kidney med has to be refrigerated. The seller sends it packed with cold packs, but I can only order this during cold or cool weather. Transit through Texas heat melts the cold packs too easily. But it's a savings during those cooler months, and every little bit helps.

We administer all meds at home, including the saline IVs. Steven, who isn't needle-phobic like I am, learned at the vet's office how to give Calvin his IV at home. We only pay for the bag of fluids and needles. We're saving $10 every time we give Calvin his IV, as that's the cost to have it done at the vet's office.

I've also been seeking out cat litter rebates. I can't do this with every bag of litter, but the picture at the top of this post shows a rebate I received yesterday for a small bag of Feline Pine (our regular litter, but a smaller size than usual which was a requirement for the rebate). It refunded me the full cost of the bag. When we empty the bag of our newest litter, I'll be sending that UPC symbol in for a full-refund rebate on that bag. I paid $16 for that tiny bag of litter, so it's a significant rebate.

In the long run, small savings on sick-pet care add up. And knowing that it helps us afford to keep our boy as well as can be makes it that much more important. When we adopted him, we took on the full responsibility of his care, and we intend to live up to that promise until the day he's too sick to endure. But if we can save a bit of money on it, we will.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Game Day at the Library

I'm a week late in posting this. Steven was invited to troop on Saturday, May 8 at the Coppell Library. Boomerang Comics does a game day there every once in a while, where they set up video games and board games for kids to come play.

After hanging out in the game room for a while, Steven was invited to wander through the library. An old man with a walker wanted to chat with him, which made me smile. I guess you're never too old or young for Star Wars! I did make Steven turn his com system off, though, because he was LOUD in the quiet of the library.

A mom beckoned to Steven to come to her. She whispered at him to go bug the girl in the purple shirt, who was her daughter. The poor unsuspecting girl was quietly reading in the teen section when my husband just sat down next to her and started reading over her shoulder. Absolutely cracked up her mom and little brother!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My New Definition of Creativity

Doing absurd things to attempt to keep the cat from peeing on stuff. (Please note that the cat checking out the foil-covered basket is the innocent party, not the guilty one.)

I pulled down the ironing basket the other night to do some rare-around-here ironing. I'd already done a few articles of clothing when... I smelled it. Calvin had peed in the ironing basket. I had to rewash everything, including some of what I'd already ironed. *sigh*

I haven't been able to find a place to put the basket where kitties can't access it. It was on top of my armoire, after all, but Calvin found his way up there. So I'm hoping that the foil will foil his desire to urinate on my clothes. (Pun totally intended.) We'll see...

Homemade Multi-Grain Bread

Last week at Sprouts, I bought an incredible loaf of multi-grain bread. It was absolutely delicious, but at nearly $5 a loaf, I don't see it being a regular addition to our regular grocery list. I leafed through my many bread cookbooks, but I didn't find anything similar.

I remembered that I had some Bob's Red Mill 10-Grain Hot Cereal in my pantry. I use it for muffins, but I started wondering if there was a bread recipe on their site that uses this. I looked, and there are several recipes. This is the one decided to try. Conveniently, I had all the ingredients in the house.

I made a few minor changes. I used 4 teaspoons of sugar instead of just 2. And I didn't do the first kneading step. Instead, I just mixed all the ingredients together, then plopped them into a greased bowl. Doing so didn't affect the recipe at all. Also, I decided to make these into regular loaves, so I put them into my loaf pans, rather than making long loaves and rolling them in salt and pepper. This required them to bake longer. I wound up putting them in for about 35 minutes.

The verdict: Delicious! Not quite the same as the $5 bread from Sprouts, but very, very good. Even better, this is the easiest yeast bread I have ever made, and it's the healthiest, too!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Strange But Good Salad

When I went to a cooking class with my mom a few months ago, the chef made a Pineapple Seafood Salad. It looked amazing, but I'm allergic to pineapple, so I didn't taste it. I asked him if there is any good substitution for pineapple, and he suggested using mango and avocado. Seeing as mangoes and avocados were on sale last week, I decided to try this out.

The original recipe was created for shoppers at Central Market, meaning that they intended you to buy certain convenience items for making this, such as a container of diced celery. Obviously, this made amounts a mystery to me, so I sort of made things up as I went along. So, what you have here is a recipe based off of the original, but I'll actually tell you how much of things I used.

3 mangoes, diced
3 avocados, diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
2 cups of cooked, peeled shrimp
1/4 cup mint, chopped
1 bunch green onion, sliced thin
2 tsp. Tabasco
Juice of 2 limes

Toss all ingredients together. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. You can add salt if you want, but I didn't. I liked it as is.

I call this a strange, but good salad because the ingredients are a rather odd combination. You should have seen my husband's face when I served this, especially when I told him what all was in it. Very, very wary. I could tell he was convinced it was going to be disgusting, but he wound up loving it. Somehow, all those ingredients work together to make something delicious.

Oh, I should mention that the original recipe called for 3/4 cup shredded coconut. I love coconut, but my husband hates it, so I left it out. I'm sure it would have been amazing with it in there. It was also meant to have 1 cup of shrimp and 1 cup of scallops, but again, my husband doesn't like scallops, so I left them out and doubled the shrimp. The picture of the salad was from the next day. It doesn't look as pretty as when it was freshly made, but I think it tasted a tad better because the flavors had melded together a bit more.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Winner: Star Wars Party Pack Giveaway

I used to draw for the winning number. I tried doing a screen shot of it, but the instructions I found told me to open MS Paint and paste the shot in there. I did that. But then I didn't know what to do with it. I'm just not all that tech savvy. So, you'll just have to trust me when I say that the winning number is 3.

Katherine, you won! You'll be hearing from me soon. Like in the next 5 minutes.

Thanks to all who entered!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Problem Solved?

If you're sick of hearing about my Sick Cat Saga, I'm sorry. But this seems to be my life lately, and you never know when what I'm dealing with may help someone else someday...

I think we may have solved the problem with The Cat Who Wants to Potty on Soft Things. (The vet said his infections make it hurt to go potty, and he associates that pain with the litterbox. So, he seeks out soft things to pee on, like my pillows, beds, and treasured childhood stuffed animals.)

Here's the solution:

We bought a second litterbox with some special new litter that's supposed to be softer. The box on the left is their old box. It has Feline Pine litter in it, which I love because it's not dusty, and it smells fresh. The box on the right is the new box, and it has Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat Senior litter. The name alone cracks me up. The words precious and cat litter don't go together in my mind, but whatever. Supposedly, this stuff helps prevent infections. We'll see...

Calvin is totally using the new box! No outside-the-box incidents since I set it down beside the old box! And I think he's really liking having a box to himself. Doogie is still scared of the new box and litter, which is cracking me up. He'll hear Calvin in it since it makes a crunchy sound when Calvin steps in. When he hears that, he'll run to watch Calvin in the new box. He'll even poke his head in to check things out when Calvin steps out. But he hasn't been brave enough to get in it himself.

I've tentatively entrusted Calvin with an open door to the master bedroom. Doogie is thrilled by this, as he's been cut off from his Safe Place under the bed. Calvin has been pleased, too, as he really enjoys taking his afternoon naps on my pillow on the bed. And so far, he's been good as gold.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Free Comic Book Day

Saturday, May 1st was Free Comic Book Day. Stormtroopers all over the metroplex went to area comic book stores to help with this event. Steven helped out at Boomerang Comics. I'm not much interested in comic book stores because they're really not my thing, but I do like this store. The owner is very nice and helped me out a couple of years ago in tracking something down for Steven's birthday, and the store doesn't smell funky. That last bit may sound weird, but most comics stores have this odor about them--a sort of warm, oily smell that comes from too many people who don't wash their clothes (or possibly even themselves) enough. All I can figure is that the owners of those stores don't clean themselves, much less their stores, enough. Ick. Boomerang's isn't that way, thankfully.

It's always fun to see people's reactions when there's an actual stormtrooper standing there. People always want to take photos.

I was just glad to finally have something Star Wars-related to post! Steven hadn't been in his armor since December.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Star Wars Party Pack Giveaway

I have some stormtrooper exclusives for you! Your kid can have the best goodie bags ever at his or her Star Wars party, as most of this stuff can't be purchased in stores. You have to get them straight from a stormtrooper!

Included in this party pack are 12 How-to-Draw Yoda sheets, 12 How-to-Draw a Clone Trooper sheets, 12 activity books, 12 tattoos, and 12 Darth Vader pencils. (The pencils are the only thing that can be purchased in stores and are not a stormtrooper exclusive.)

The Imperial Cadet Training Manuals are activity books with 10 pages of puzzles, coloring, and games, all centered on Star Wars. The back page is for autographs, should your child run into any Star Wars characters. (The winner can request autographed copies--the autographs will be TK-590, who is otherwise known as My Husband the Stormtrooper.)

To win, simply leave a comment and tell me which Star Wars movie is your favorite (or the favorite of the Star Wars lover you're trying to win this for). My favorite is Return of the Jedi. It has cute ewoks kicking some stormtrooper rear, Luke as a full-fledged Jedi, and a happy ending! The winner will be randomly chosen next Monday, May 10th.