The Short Sweet Sweet Life of Smokestack Beef

On December 15, 2012 we went to pick out a sweet sweet kitten.

On the way home we figured out his name: Smokestack Beef. But we decided to call him Smokey. We would have to wait until he got older to bring him home.

On January 21, 2013 he came home. This is him on the bed at night. He was snuggling because he was such a snuggler.

He liked to sleep in the checker box while we were playing chess or checkers.

He loved to look down when we went downstairs for breakfast.

He was always watching us.

On the way to Vermont for the summer, he peed in his cat carrier. So we had to give him a bath. And we never gave him another bath.

He dried out nicely and enjoyed his summer in Vermont.

He was getting big but he loved to hop up into this chair. He had a nice summer in Vermont with us.

We came back to New York and he was peeing on the couch a lot so we had to put him in the office where we are writing this story. Sorry but we didn’t get so many pictures.

Then he started getting sick. On October 18 we had a playdate with our friends and we noticed Smokey wasn’t walking right. The next day he had a cold and went to the vet. A few days later, we found out he was going to die. He had FIP. And then we came up with this great idea of an early birthday party before he died. (His birthday was November 16, he would have been one.)

This is his birthday cake.

We all made him cards and these are the cards. Even our babysitter Margo made one.

We all said goodbye to him. This is the day he went to the vet to be euthanized. And that is the end of the story of the sweet sweet life of Smokestack Beef.

We love you sweet sweet Smokestack Beef even though you are not here.

RIP Smokestack “Smokey” Beef
November 16, 2012 – October 25, 2013

– Written by Ollie, typed by Mommy

Current obsessions

Blue Bottle’s New Orleans Style Iced Coffee. I tried this on my recent trip to San Francisco and was hooked after drinking only one. Maybe it was because I was hot and sweaty after a run along the Embarcadero. Maybe it was because of the view of the bridges and Mt. Tam across the Bay. Maybe it’s because it’s so delicious and mellow and a tad sweet and simply summer perfection in a glass. I am now making by the glass quart at home, weekly.

Japanese Sewing Books. Japanese girls’ clothes manage to be feminine and sweet without being garishly pink and purple. The fabrics and photos in the sewing books are lovely, and the styling is perfect. I’ve already got one and I want more. Luckily there seem to be plenty of resources online for patterns. I’ve been sewing a lot and these books make me want to sew clothes for Minna all day long.

These two obsessions work well together: I can get jacked up on iced coffee and sew for like ten hours straight!

On Adversity

“If you’re successful all the time, you sell yourself short. How do you stretch yourself to the point where you fail, to learn how to deal with adversity?” – Gary Caldwell, Head of Tufts Rowing (and my former coach!)

The Make It Do Project

Last year I attended Maggie Mason’s Camp Mighty, and part of the conference activities were to work on our life lists (aka bucket lists). One thing I had on there was “buy nothing for 1,2 or 3 months”. (I wasn’t able to commit to how long I needed to go without buying stuff.) Anyway, since November my thinking’s changed and I decided that 2012 would be a year of buying nothing for myself.

I’ve launched a site to document my year of “making do” with what I’ve got: Make It Do. You can follow my progress there as I try and I’ve also set up @makeitdo on Twitter. There’s also more information about how I envision this year actually going, and some guidelines, etc. Wish me luck!

(Alas this means I’ll be posting more online, I hope, but probably not a whole lot more here. Poor Megnut, you’re a beloved blog that deserves better than this!)

Remembering Bodhi

On a day in early September, 1993 I drove to meet an orange kitten, the last of the litter, being given away in Cambridge, MA. I’d never seen such large ears on such a small little body. And as big as he grew, his ears were always oversized for his frame.

There was some debate about his name the first month he lived with us. I proposed “Pumpkin Bread,” unwilling to shorten to “Pumpkin” because that seemed generic. My housemates refused to call a cat “Pumpkin Bread.” Then it was “Mr. Darcy” when my British Lit class tackled “Pride & Prejudice.” That was a bit formal for such a rambunctious kitten who would bat my pencil as I tried to do my homework. Name enlightenment struck during my Asian Religions class. Maybe this kitten could help me find my own buddha nature. Bodhi it was.

It’s hard to reconcile the cat of the past few months with the memories of the early years. After one vet visit, I loaded him into the cat carrier with a cone around his neck. In the car there was a tremendous whirlwind of activity in the carrier, and when I got home I discovered he’d removed the cone. While in the carrier. I called the vet to ask if I should put it back on.

“Oh yes, please put it back on. You shouldn’t take it off yet,” said the vet’s receptionist.

“I didn’t take it off,” I explained, “He did. In his cat carrier on the way home.”


“I don’t think you should try and put it back on him.”


In the early years, Bodhi spent time outside, getting into cat fights that left him with a torn ear, bringing me presents of little dead rabbits when we lived on the Cape. He was a “dog” cat then, coming when I called him, and following me wherever I went walking.
He moved to San Francisco with me before I had an apartment, living with my parents while I traveled for work as a consultant. When I eventually settled down, I brought him from Marin to my place in the Inner Sunset. He settled on the sofa as I called my landlord for permission to have a cat. She refused to give it to me, and respectful of authority at that time, I drove him back over the Golden Gate the next day.

A few months later my parents moved back east, and I had no choice but to bring Bodhi to my apartment. There was never any issue. I don’t know if my landlord ever found out, and “ask forgiveness, not permission” became my rule of thumb, at least as far as landlords and pets were concerned.

In May 2001, the day I was laid off from a dumb job I’d taken in financial desperation, Bodhi had some weird seizure. At the vet ER they diagnosed a heart murmur and heart disease. They said most likely he’d last six months to a year. At that time it was hard to imagine ten more years of adventures: a move to New York City, a sojourn in New Hampshire, a return to New York City and three different houses before his final home in the West Village.

Our first New York apartment was tiny, and Bodhi got fat from lack of exercise. But I’m not sure he realized it, and when some friends came to visit and sat on our sofa, Bodhi hopped up to join them, wedging himself between their laps, intent on being part of the conversation.

The arrival of two kids meant less attention from me, but more from them. As old as Bodhi got, he was always so patient with the kids, letting them lie on him like a pillow, putting up with their petting and pulling. Even this morning, purring as they played with him and Minna showed him her rain boots.

These last six months he’s lost so much weight, until the bones just poked through his fur, and you could feel his skull when you rubbed his ears. Often I’d pass him sleeping and sort of hope that maybe his chest wouldn’t rise as I watched. But it always did, slowly, as he slept and slept.

I struggled with whether it was time, and how to know for sure. But to know for sure would be in some ways to wait too long, to see his pain and suffering too clearly. He stopped using his box over a week ago, and that was something about which he was fastidious. The dog-cat who welcomed every visitor to our house now barely raised his head when someone entered the room.

The semester before I got Bodhi, I took the best class I’ve ever taken. We studied Buddhism, Deconstruction, Emily Dickenson, and Walt Whitman. I read every word of “Leaves of Grass” again and again, and in times of great sorrow I always come back to it:

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;
And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward–nothing collapses;
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

I took Bodhi to the vet this afternoon. I petted and stroked him as they administered the injections. At the end, we were left alone. I thought of how lucky we both were: to have shared so much time together, to have been so loved. To leave this world without pain, surrounded by love, is about as lucky as one can get.

Bodhi 1993-2011

Best of 2000

Ugh it’s painful to read these old posts, so I made it through July 2000 before stopping. I fear if I keep this up, I’ll become so depressed by the amount of crap I’ve contributed to the world that I’ll give up the site entirely. Not a great start to its thirteenth year.

This post about I/O overload from March 2000 struck me. I clearly remember writing it, and the day I sat on the MUNI and realized I was too drained to do anything but sit. Also at the time I was fairly unable to just sit, to just be, until exhaustion forced me to. I was uncomfortable with the stillness that comes with stopping. There’s a lot of fear of being alone in those early posts.

Quiet time to myself is now so rare and so treasured. I could happily read on the subway if I happened to be alone but I’d also gladly just sit and watch and think. Two kids, one husband, and twelve years later I’m in a much better place. But I sure would enjoy a Saturday to myself.

Pain and Birth and 2000 Meters

My freshman year in college, a former rower stopped by our boathouse following the birth of her first child. At that point in my life, and in the lives of all the women I rowed with, a 2000 meter race was the most intense pain any of us had experienced. We were quite certain nothing could top it, though some workouts and erg tests came close. So of course our first question as we huddled around her: “Was it as painful as a 2000 meter sprint?” I’ll admit I was pretty sure she was going to say no.

She replied it was much worse.

Worse?! You could just see the fear on everyone’s face, the quick dashing of plans for children in that very moment.

In the years that followed I carried that information with me, along with memories of rowing pain. There were times in some races where I was quite certain I would die, right there, on the spot, and fall out of the boat. I remember thinking, “I guess I’ll keep rowing because everyone else is still going, and I don’t want to let them down and if I die, I’ll just die. And then I’ll be done rowing.” And that thought seemed pleasant.

Tufts Crew

Over the ensuing years I’ve done physically grueling things: hikes, weight training, intense spin classes, swims in a rough ocean, even a marathon. Nothing comes close to the pain of rowing. Nothing.

So when I got pregnant with Ollie I knew I wanted a natural childbirth with no epidural. After all these years, I’d be able to see how something could possibly be more painful that rowing! Because Ollie was overdue, I was induced and I managed 13 hours on Pitocin, all through the night, in agony, before I succumbed (in tears) to an epidural. Ollie was born two hours later.

With Minna I was determined to avoid that situation, and worked with a midwife throughout my pregnancy and planned for a home birth. I labored in my living room, watching the Giants vs Cowboys, then paced, breathing and counting. The counting’s a holdover from rowing, when we’d do “10s” for power, or technique, and you’d just do ten strokes to focus on pulling ahead of another boat. I do 10s when I run, or whenever I face a physical challenge. I count through the pain.

Jason filled the birthing tub and after a few hours I decided to get in. Instantly the contractions slowed and the water felt fantastic. The midwife had arrived and the three of us actually just hung out and chatted, and I’d pause to do some deep breaths when a contraction arrived. Since Ollie’s birth had taken so long, I assumed I had hours to go in the tub when suddenly I felt the baby and needed to push. I gave two excruciating pushes. My midwife checked the progress.

“Do you think it’s five more pushes?” I asked her, hopefully.

“Oh I’d say two, maybe three.” she replied.

My heart leapt!

“Well I can do five!” I said, in some kind of crazy counting birthing delirium.

I didn’t need to. Minna popped out after two.

In my list of pain, it currently stands:

1. Minna crowning. Intense but very brief.
2. Ollie labor on Pitocin. Hours of long immobilizing agony.
3. Crew race of 2000 meters. Intense. Horrific. Still the worst concentrated seven-to-eight minutes of my life.

Way way down that list, everything else.

In rowing we used to always throw around the saying, “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.” I get to look at my two great kids every day. In a box in the closet is my gold medal from the 1992 New England Rowing Championships. If it wouldn’t be weird to wear it around, I probably would.

Grandma’s Silver


For a long time I’ve been trying to use the good stuff, trying to enjoy the nice things I have rather than save them for some far off “better” time when they’d be appropriate. I learned this lesson the hard way after saving a vintage bottle of Champagne for too long. It was spoiled when I finally opened it for a special occasion. Thing is, drinking that Champagne makes the occasion special, not the other way around.

When my grandmother died, my mother gave me her silverware. When I think of eating at her house, even when I was very little, I do not think of this silverware. I think of some stainless flatware that sat in the kitchen drawer next to the sink. I don’t ever recall seeing this silver, and why would I? It was the good stuff, stored out of sight, wrapped carefully in soft flannel to protect it from scratches, tarnish, and ultimately, use.

I’m sure she used it. Sadly, I’ll never be able to ask her when, or hear stories about it. But after I got it and looked through it all, marveling at the shape of the soup spoon, and the weight of the fork, I packed up my stainless. And I filled our drawer with the beautiful silverware: the little butter knives and the salad forks with funny cuts in the tines.

We now use the silverware every day, for every meal. We wash it by hand, we take care of it. But we use it. And whenever I hold it, I think of her.