Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another Hurdle Cleared

Houston, we have cat food.

Yeah. I know. Not the most titillating subject for a post, is it? Still. One of the biggest concerns we had about embarking on a five month sailing trip - a trip that includes our feline companions - was how to feed them. Three were easy. They'll eat canned Wellness cat food. The lady to the right, Hatshepsut, will not. She is exceedingly particular. Homemade, raw cat food or hunger strike. Stop rolling your eyes. Yes. My cats are spoiled rotten little brats. I freely admit this. I'm also clear who created and who perpetuates the problem. It's all the DH. :D

Feeding raw is easy when you live in a house with a real refrigerator and freezer (and when you have a veterinarian with training in feline nutrition to give you the information you need to keep the food nutritionally balanced). On the boat, with a freezer the size of a loaf of bread, it's much harder. I couldn't make five months of raw food and just stash it in the freezer. There must be some kind of option, right? So off I went to Earth Pet, our local pet store. I stocked up on five months of Wellness (15 cases of 3 ounce cans) and treats. I asked for suggestions about how to handle Hatshepsut's strong dietary preferences. The excellent staff shook their heads and said, "Wow. Let us think on that. She won't eat anything canned, huh?"

It was at our last vet appointment (all the cats had to have health certificates in order to enter Canada), a possible solution presented itself. The clinic carries a package called Wild Kitty (I don't name these things). It's a 'kit' for making cat food. You mix the packet contents with one pound of ground chicken or turkey and voila. Raw cat food that I can make just about anywhere there's a grocery store, and I can make it in small enough batches that my teensy freezer can accommodate it. I bought a pack to try out on the youngest, since she was the gating factor in the whole cat food saga.

When I opened the kit packet, all of the cats thought the contents smelled pretty interesting. I reconstituted the freeze-dried ingredients as instructed, then mixed in the ground chicken. Cuillean hopped up on the counter to help herself to a taste test. I gave her a spoonful. Cuillean approved. I offered Hatshepsut a taste. She tried to bury it. Erie comandeered the sample and licked the plate sparkling clean. I gave her more. She ate that, too. Autolycus, by this time, realized his sisters were getting something he wasn't. I offered him a plate. He had to think about it for a split second, but then he licked his plate clean. Perfect. The three cats who didn't need a raw food option all love it.

The one I needed to have eat it, didn't.

I had to resort to big guns. I added soemthing called 'Healthy Powder' to the mix, stirred it up and offered another taste to Hatshepsut. She actually thought about it trying a bite...and she didn't attempt to bury it. Progress. Clearly, bribery was in order. I adorned her sample with a few kibble. No go. I sprinkled crushed Wildside Salmon treat over the top and...SCORE! She ate it. She *liked* it. She didn't polish her plate, but it was a close thing. Yay!

Now, of course, I have to go buy a five month supply of Wild Kitty cat food kits...and Wildside Salmon treats.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Contest News


These were the butterflies in my stomach last night and this morning. I'd entered Enemy Within in the romance industry award contest. The RITA is the romance industry's top award for romance fiction. We like to say it's our Oscar, on par with science fiction's Hugo award. The main difference being that authors cannot enter their own books into the Hugo - they must be nominated (like the Oscars) by *other* industry professionals. Romance Writers of America allows authors with a qualifying work to enter the contest directly, though books are nominated as well. Thus it is that RITA finalists are called finalists rather than nominees.

Today, the phone calls went out notifying finalists.  RWA had announced the date a few weeks ago and all of us who'd entered a book had quietly marked our calendars. We swore the nerves wouldn't get us - that whatever happened, happened. And yet. Whenever you put your work out and ask others to pass judgement on it, the neuroses strike deep. You assure yourself you wrote the best book you could, but the fear rises from out of nowhere that your best simply isn't good enough. I managed to hold off the jitters until Thursday night.

I thought I'd done a good job of keeping my cool this morning, too. Got the DH off to work. Got showered and sat down to work on a blog post for my other secret life at Word Whores. Yahoo IM popped up. My friend, Jeffe Kennedy, who usually spends her early mornings working on *her* books, asked if I'd heard anything yet. It was 7:45am. Then MSN Messenger pinged. My friend and fellow critiquer, Melinda Rucker-Haynes, wanted to know what was happening. Anxiety pitched high at that point. I figured that no one would call prior to 8am my time, IF they were going to call at all.

At 8:02, the phone rang. Relief dumped through me. Enemy Within was good enough in at least one category. Assuming that long distance phone number wasn't someone calling to ask for money for some cause or the other...It wasn't. It was RWA National calling to tell me Enemy Within had finaled in the Best First Book category. YAY! Shaking, I hung up and IM'd both waiting friends. Melinda initiated a video call so she could ask me exactly what had been said in the phone call. That's when the phone rang again. 8:09. The book had finaled in the Paranormal category, too. Melinda got to watch and listen while I took that call. WOO HOO! I am thrilled and excited and can't think straight.  

Then I realized. I have no idea where along the Inside Passage the DH and I will be come late June...where the heck am I going to catch a flight to NYC for the RWA National Conference and the awards ceremony? Who cares?? I'll walk if I have to. Congrats to all the finalists! See you in NYC. Just promise to catch me if I pass out?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wait, Don't Leave

An interesting thing happens when you make a major life decision like 'hey, DH resigned and we're going sailing for five months!' Everyone around you congratulates you, says how great it all sounds, and mentions envy at some point. Then they start coming up with ways to make it so that you aren't really gone.

No lie. Friends immediately say 'you'll be blogging about the trip, right? You'll be on email and text and phone? So we know where you are?' Of course. Though I think we all know who the 'we' in the blogging question is here, right? My World of Warcraft buddies say 'will you have internet? Will you still be in game?' Sorry. No. The cable won't reach all the way into Canada or Alaska. And since Clearwire is now the subject of a class action lawsuit brought by customers complaining about lack of bandwidth on the service - our initial internet plan is ruined. No WoW for us. The withdrawals are going to be murder. I get the shakes just thinking about not being able to blow up bad guys for 166 whole days. Then, just last week, my dear sister called me. "Will you be in my wedding?" Of course I will! When? "Some time this summer." I bounce my forehead against my desk. "We can video conference you in," she says. Actually, I don't think we can, but that's another technology issue. Now, granted. I've known that she had a wedding in the offing. And to be fair, I knew that this summer was under discussion. I don't know why it didn't occur to me that my sister might want me in her wedding. I'm apparently a thoughtless goof.

Beyond that, the questions of what we'll do when we get back have already begun. What will we do? Where will we go? And we haven't even cast off yet. I suppose it's human nature to want to know whether your friends will come back to civilization and take up the mantle of responsibility again - or whether they're going to descend into some itinerant beach bumdom from whence they'll never return. The answer to that question is currently up in the air. Some friends are okay with that. Some aren't. If you're one of the friends not okay with a shrug as an answer, we're telling you that DH will likely contract when we get back. Take it for what it's worth and be aware that the story may change come October.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Heating Dilemma

 We're in the midst of trying to figure out how to stay warm aboard the boat while we're not plugged into shore power. This isn't as easy as it sounds. The interior of the Gemini 105Mc is very efficient. This is a nice way of saying there isn't a spare inch of space that isn't used for something, somehow, someway. Lovely, if you aren't trying to be - er - frugal about your heating solution. Our first choice, based on price point, availability, and ease of installation was a propane fireplace like the one left - the Dickinson Marine Newport Propane Heater. Nice unit with good heat output. Sealed burn chamber so that moisture is vented. (Propane produces water as a burn by-product and moisture inside a boat equals mold and mildew.) Biggest challenge: Where to mount the unit. We thought we'd solved that problem and went cheerfully into a store to order a heater. "You do have twenty inches of clearance above the heater, right?" the sales clerk said. We groaned. We'd be lucky to get eight inches of clearance. We left without ordering anything and trudged down to the boat where we stood staring around the interior. Harsh words were said. I don't think either of us has sworn as much as we have since buying a boat...but that's another story. We finally agreed we could make it work. It meant redesigning the settee a bit, and it might not be pretty, but we could make it work.

My father had another suggestion. He sent us to look at the Scan Marine website. http://www.scanmarineusa.com/ Apparently, Wallas diesel-fired heaters can be mounted in tiny spaces with very little clearance. The price tag is higher than the propane heater. By three or four times. It's a forced air heater - a little like the furnace on your house. Forced air in a boat is good, it helps dry up the moisture that accummulates aboard and helps suppress mold and mildew. All good things. The complicated part is running air ducts. The Gemini is made in layers - an outer hull and an inner living space that gets set down inside the hull layer. Access between those layers is challenging at best. So while we have a perfect location (we think) for the Wallas furnace, we're still working out the duct logistics.

All this to say we still have no clue how or if we'll manage to stay warm aboard the boat as we head north. The tempation to skip heat altogether and just walk around wearing down sleeping bags has also been running high.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Change

On March 1, my husband resigned his position after eight very successful years. He'd been working with a group of bright, motivated people. There were challenges, which is the point, isn't it? He'd been promoted and was being developed to move on to the next level. So why now?

Blame a funeral. In the first half of 2010, a friend of DH's died. He was our age. He was out of the golf course with friends and simply collapsed and was gone. One of those heart attacks that offers no second chances. We attended the funeral, feeling the weight of this man's bereft wife, children and friends. When it was over, DH and I got back in the car and sat there for several minutes. "I'll miss him. And if this has taught me anything, it's that I don't want my tombstone to read 'he was a good employee'," DH said.

We drove home and began planning an adventure: Sailing the Inside Passage up to Alaska and back. Our planning stage was supposed to have lasted far longer - as in a decade. DH wanted to semi-retire (you know - work part of the year and then take three months of vacation) once he hit 50-55ish. We'd put our plan into action at that point. Then, one cold Friday night in February as we sat looking at our financial numbers, our family configuration, our health and our ages, a number of factors snapped into perfect alignment all at once.

We realized. It was go time.

So we're gearing up. DH works through the month of March, then he begins hardcore work on prepping the boat. This includes putting in dedicated heat that doesn't rely on shore-side electricity. I'll abandon him to that work while I fly to Los Angeles to the Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention. When I get back, I'll have to get us moved aboard, provision within reason - it's not like Canada doesn't have grocery stores - and finish putting our shore-side lives in short term stasis.

We have no clue how far north we'll get. We're trying not to have an aggressive schedule. The point is going to be on seeing and experiencing, not on 'hurry up and get there'. People have begun asking me whether I'm excited or not. Between bouts of horror and terror at what we've done? Sure. I suppose I'm looking forward to getting out on the water in a 34'x14' boat where I'll be ensconced with my husband and our four felines 24 hours of every day for 166 days. At least. Have I mentioned I love music? Music my dearest husband does *not* love? Yeah. Haven't worked that one out yet. Headphones are only good to a point, you know?

Kidding. The Gemini has two aft cabins. We've designated those as private space. One is mine. One is his. We each have a place to go where we can shut a door behind us and pretend to disappear. I still can't blast Pendulum or the Silver Sun Pickups at will, but I can probably get a break from all the 'togetherness' if need be and so can he.

So here's the important bit. We'll be back and we'll return to contributing to the local economy via a return to work - where? Up in the air until our return. Our phone numbers don't change, neither do email addresses - though admittedly, we aren't certain we'll have internet aboard. We may be limited to internet cafes in ports on an irregular basis. This blog will suffer (more that it does already) from that neglect. But when I have connectivity, I will do my best to post photos and descriptions of where we are. I will maintain my Facebook account as much as possible and my Twitter feed @marcellaburnard (may be intermittant as cell reception varies). I will continue to post every Friday to the Word-Whores blog (http://www.word-whores.blogspot.com/). So we won't vanish for those months that we're out.  Unless the kraken gets us. Or sasquatch.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cat Food Recall

Yesterday, WellPet, the maker of Wellness brand pet foods issued a recall of its Wellness canned cat food. The recall text is here in its entirety:
WELLPET LLC VOLUNTARILY RECALLS CERTAIN LOTS OF CANNED CAT FOOD No Other Lots, Products or Dates Affected
Tewksbury, MA (February 28, 2011) - WellPet LLC announced today it has voluntarily recalled certain lots of Wellness® canned cat food.

While recent laboratory testing found that most lots of Wellness canned cat food that were tested contain sufficient amounts of thiamine (also known as Vitamin B1), some of the lots listed below might contain less than adequate levels of thiamine. However, out of an abundance of caution, WellPet has decided. to recall all of the lots listed below.
Cats fed only the affected lots for several weeks may be at risk for developing a thiamine deficiency. Thiamine is essential for cats. Symptoms of deficiency displayed by an affected cat can be gastrointestinal or neurological in nature.
Early signs of thiamine deficiency may include decreased appetite, salivation, vomiting, and weight loss. In advanced cases, neurologic signs can develop, which may include ventriflexion (bending towards the floor) of the neck, wobbly walking, circling, falling, and seizures. If your cat has consumed the recalled lots and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian. If treated promptly, thiamine deficiency is typically reversible.

The lots involved in this voluntary recall are:
  • Wellness Canned Cat (all flavors and sizes) with best by dates from 14APR 13 through 30SEP13
  • Wellness Canned Cat Chicken & Herring (all sizes) with 10NOV13 or 17NOV13 best buy dates.
Consumers who still have cans of cat food from these lots should stop feeding them to their cats and call us at (877) 227-9587 Monday through Friday, 9:00 am– 7:00 pm Eastern Time. Consumers with further questions should visit our website at www.wellnesspetfood.com or call us at this same number.
WellPet discovered the lower thiamine levels during independent testing conducted together with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in response to a single, isolated consumer complaint received by the FDA. Although WellPet has received no other reports concerning thiamine in its products, WellPet has taken additional steps with the manufacturer to ensure that this does not happen again.
"As a pet parent myself, I'm concerned for the health and welfare of all pets, and as a company we are committed to delivering the most nutritious natural pet food," said Tim Callahan, chief executive officer of WellPet, the maker of Wellness products. "Even though the chance of a cat developing a thiamine deficiency is extremely remote, we are voluntarily recalling all of these lots of our canned cat food as an extra precaution."

The foods being recalled are safe - there's no contamination - they may simply be low on a B vitamin. If you are feeding Wellness canned to your pets, you can return unopened cans for replacement. I had three cases of food from the recalled lot, but decided to keep them since there's really nothing wrong with the food. B vitamins are safe and simple to supplement, so I'm going that route - adding a low dose veterinary multi-vitamin to the food. B vitamins are water soluable, so any excess is washed out of the body. Which means added load on the kidneys, so if you have a cat in renal failure, check with your vet before adding anything to your feline's food.