Friday, December 16, 2016

Good Will to All Sentient Beings

My Social Security check is late. I don’t want to sound paranoid but could the new administration be having a pre-inaugural affect on my income? 

Well that does sound paranoid. But still. 

I have made an extra effort this year to relay good wishes to relatives, friends and acquaintances. I have a growing sense of dread – a feeling that our personal connections will become more essential -- that our efforts, combined and solitary, may be required if we are to protect all that may need protecting. 

 Like trees, and national parks, and women and immigrants and Muslims and Jews and African Americans and human dignity and …. Ah, the list can extend forever. 

I, like so many others, have been complacent for so long – assuming that if I sign petitions and contribute some money that all those things I value will be fortified and safe. 

Now I am not so sure. 

I do not know what we will be called on to do in the years ahead but I know with a certainty that we will be called upon. I hope that I will have the courage to stand up for what is right and in front of those who need protection. 

I hope we all do. 

🎄This year my prayer is for Peace on Earth and Good Will to All Sentient Beings.🎄 

And a Social Security deposit in my account.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Signs of the Times

The other day I drove past an automated sign dancer! 

It was a female mannequin with a blonde wig wearing a red sheath and waving a sign encouraging patronage in a barbershop. 

What next? 

Sign dancers – the real ones – astound me. Whenever I see one moving in perpetual gyrations I wish them generous paychecks. If I had to do that – well, I couldn’t. 

At times it seems that there is nowhere you can go in this country without someone trying to sell you something. Nothing is free of commercials and nothing is free. 

Advertisements appear on the computer screen next to my email. And in my mailbox and in my newspaper and on my television and radio and on my telephone. 

And the frenzy accelerates as the no-longer-holy holiday season advances. 

 Too much. 

How do we decelerate all this? How do we reconnect with the real: friends and sunsets and babies and cats? Good food and brisk walks and genuine laughter? The beauty of the ordinary – the mostly free of charge – must somehow be appreciated again. And valued – even more than our microwaves … or barbershops.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Annual Ritual

My friend was visiting from Chicago about the time of the elks’ annual rutting season. 

 I try, every year, to get up to Rocky Mountain National Park in time to witness love’s majestic ritual. My friend was my excuse to make a special after-church journey up the mountain. We had lunch on the balcony of the Fall River Visitors Center, absorbing the beauty of the day and the foliage and the magpies lurking for fallen French fries.

Then we rode into the park and around its roads. It was beautiful but largely elk-less. My friend was beginning to doubt the existence of elk and the legendary spectacle. We saw lots of cars and people setting up chairs to watch the annual show. But no elk. My friend was leaving the next day. She could not leave disappointed. 

 I decided to drive to Upper Beaver Meadow, at the end of the worst road in the park. We got all the way to end, waited and walked a bit, but still no elk. We were about to leave when a man wearing a Chicago Cubs sweatshirt (or perhaps a state of Colorado sweatshirt – they are a little similar) came over a small hill and announced that there was a lot of elk activity at the end of the little path ascending the knoll. 

My friend has Parkinson’s and I had a sprained neck. Getting up that little hill was no small feat. But we did it. And there at the summit two bull elk were butting heads, sparring for the affection of a magnificent doe. I couldn’t get my camera pointed the right way in time to record the actual duel but I did photograph the victor and … off to the side, the prize. My friend saw it. I saw it. We were only a few yards from the action. It was thrilling. And awesome. And worth the wait. 

 She went home believing. I went home validated. And I will go back again next year.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Remembering Nancy Phillips

There are all kinds of family. This is a photo of one of my families, my writers group.

It's been meeting for decades I think. I've only been part of it since 2003 or 2004. We meet twice a month in each other's homes. Two of us live/d in Loveland; four, in Fort Collins; one each in Bellvue and Wellington. We bring whatever we've been working on, read it, and get feedback that inevitably helps us make our prose or poetry better. Without this group, my memoir, Tree Lines, and my new book, Family Time, would still be in my head or in a box on a shelf. But they've both been published. 

If that is all our writers group did, it would be enough. But our meetings and between-meetings communications weave us, inextricably, into family.

In the photograph, Gary Raham, Clare Rutherford, Nancy Burns, and Beverly Haley are standing behind the couch. Judie Freeland, Susan Quinlan, Nancy Phillips and I (Mim Neal, holding Herbie the cat) are seated.

Nancy Phillips and I were the Loveland contingent. She used to drive her vintage jeep to my house and I would drive us to wherever we were meeting. Even though our hosts always provide refreshments, Nancy and I would often go out to lunch afterward. That's more than a decade of drive-time and lunch-time conversations.

A few years ago, Nancy was diagnosed with cancer. There were operations and hospital and nursing home stays. But she always came back. She knew (we all knew) that the cancer would win. She carried on, never sinking into either despair or self-pity. Still writing. Our group formed Penstemon Publications and published one of the dozens of completed manuscripts Nancy had created and stowed away. Tardy Justice is a great book, an historical novel set in early Leadville, Colorado. Every detail is carefully crafted. She even read old magazines to determine which colloquialisms were period-appropriate.

Her participation in our group lessened as her illness grew worse. I was out of town when she went into the hospital for the last time.  When I returned, I visited her a few more times. I had made her promise to stick around long enough to hear about my son's wedding. I told the story but I don't know if she heard.

Nancy Phillips died at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, November 1, 2016.

She enriched the lives of all who knew her. 

She is deeply missed.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

a taste from my childhood

Within Yosemite National Park there is a grand old hotel, now called the Majestic... and rightly so.
You enter walking on a red carpet.
The lobby is vast and elegant.
As is the dining room.
I managed to get there for lunch.
My excellent chicken sandwich was just an excuse ... a prelude to the dessert I had spotted 
on the menu: boysenberry pie.
I hadn't had boysenberry anything since I was a very little girl 
when my family took me to Knotts Berry Farm.
Sometimes things you remember from your childhood
when you are an adult.

This did not.
It was as good as I remembered.
So good, I took a photo before it was entirely gone.
I intend to show it to my brother.
Sharing a memory
a taste from our childhood. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

majestic Yosemite

 Some places are so majestic that words are superfluous. Yosemite is such a place.
 [The 'mist' is actually smoke from a controlled valley burn.]

 No waterfalls in mid-September but you can see the 'stain' from the falls.

 The Merced River
 Yosemite is so grand that even in mid-September there is an endless stream of cars entering the park.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Journey Into the Past

For my new book, Family Time, I had done a lot of research about my ancestors. I combined that research with my own memories and imagination and voila! 

Some family history occurred in unfamiliar territory. I checked locales online but they were not imbedded in my consciousness. Still, I should have raised my antennae when I learned that one of the streets to get to Highway 41 from the Fresno airport was Fowler. My great grandmother’s maiden name was Nell Miriam Fowler.

 My antennae stayed down until I boarded the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, a restored steam train whose purpose had been converted from logging to tourists. The setting was charming. The people there delightful. Still I didn’t get it until I boarded and from the broadcast narrative learned that this was a logging train.

Only then did I remember that for a brief period my great grandparents and their two daughters lived outside of Fresno and my great grandfather earned his living hauling logs down from the mountain on a buckboard. 

So, the forest we traveled through could have been the source of his cargo. And the hour-long drive down the mountain to Fresno could have been retracing his route. 

Back then, the round trip took a week. My great grandmother roasted a ham and packed other essentials to keep him going. My great aunts went to a local school and their mother taught Fresno ladies painting. 

I knew all this but until I boarded that train, I had no mental picture of their world. 

What a grand connection.

Monday, September 19, 2016

My Sequoias

Told that visits to the giant sequoias were apparently not feasible during my visit near and in Yosemite National Park, I was keenly disappointed. Then I learned of a small grove that was relatively close, albeit on a road far less traveled (for good reasons). 

 Since the sequoias were a main objective of my recent trip, I found the road – actually, ‘road’ is too generous a term – and inched my rented car over the dirt ruts until I found the grove. After 45 minutes without seeing another human or vehicle, it was reassuring [and somewhat astounding] to spot two other cars in the little parking area. 

I had four sheets of paper with directions, descriptions, and maps of the trails around Nelder Grove. None of them were of any use to me. I have no idea which trail I took or which trees I saw. None of that matters. 

Within a few moments after leaving my car, following the soft dirt path into the forest, I was enveloped by the embrace of trees. Shade and silence, dappled by sunlight, drifted peace into my soul. 

I noticed little things: moss, a spider web, a heart shadow. 

And, every once in a while, a great old tree. I strolled, ambled and wandered for hours, absorbing the beauty, letting it heal me. 

Finally, hours later, thirst and fatigue forced me to turn back. Eventually, I found my car, the primitive road and the highway … and a restaurant where I drank a gallon of water with my late, late lunch. 

What a splendid, splendid day.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Three Sun Salute

It's the week after Labor Day and Colorado weather is perfect. On the perimeter of my yard, three kinds of yellow flowers cascade salutes to cool mornings and evenings and days of sunshine.

.... sort of  Blackeyed Susans ... 

sunflowers ...

and on the side yard those yellow flowers whose name is a mystery

Perhaps we are not supposed to notice but other yellow things appear -- every once in a while one falls on the lawn, quietly, solitary. 

Each is a tiny prelude of the avalanche to come . . . reminding us to savor present conditions, present beauty -- to breathe in the gentle interlude -- the present moment.

It's all good.

Monday, August 22, 2016

One More Hero Gone

I don’t usually read the sports section but the New York Times’ final coverage of the Olympics drew me in. There, after all the gold medal stories, was Dr. Donald A. Henderson’s obituary. 

I knew him. I read his book, “Smallpox: The Death of a Disease.” I sat at the table with him in Rotary International’s board room in Evanston, IL and at the Pan American Health Organization’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. 

 It’s entirely possible that most people have never heard of him – have no idea that he led the successful global effort to eradicate smallpox. 

Two years ago another hero died, Dr. Ciro de Quadros, who led the successful effort to eradicate polio from the Americas. Dr. de Quadros was part of the smallpox eradication team – one of the hundreds of heroes whom Dr. Henderson honored with the “Order of the Bifurcated Needle.” [The smallpox vaccine was administered with a two-pronged needle.] 

When Rotary International committed that association to the eradication of polio, Dr. D.A. Henderson was one of the experts consulted. Sometimes he supported the effort (believing it possible), sometimes not (believing it more ‘evangelical than attainable’. And sometimes he changed his mind. 

Always bringing great intellect, common sense, and compassion to his dedication to human health, he was a hero among heroes. 

However tangentially, his life touched mine and I was enriched. And he saved the lives – and the quality of life – for hundreds of thousands of us. 

Thank you, Dr. D.A. Henderson.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Herbie -- The Velvet Glove

My cat Herbie has the softest coat I’ve ever felt on any cat – softer than rabbit fur. And he loves everyone – people he has known forever and total strangers. The doorbell (whether actual or on television) spurs him into action. He greets all visitors with great enthusiasm. If they sit, he sits on their laps and revels in their attention.

And he pays intense attention to me. For years, he has supervised my writing . . . and almost every other activity. (When he is not sleeping)
Herbie will be 16 years old in October and he has kidney disease.
Although the special food I buy from the vet seems to be helping, I know it will only slow the inevitable. Knowing that, I tend to pamper him – making sure he has enough food, enough water, enough love – and a clean litter box.
I’ve long held the theory that cats (or at least my cats) are remarkably similar to two-year-old humans. You know what happens when you pamper a two-year-old? They want more.
Now when I go to bed, Herbie joins me. He walks up to the head of the bed and with gentle pushes of his front paws, rearranges me. He wants the softest pillow. He often gets the softest pillow – there are others for me.

When I’m not there, the pillow becomes his throne.
Herbie – my gentle, loving cat – has become he who must be obeyed – an iron hand in a velvet glove.

Monday, August 1, 2016

New Bed

About a year or so after my mom died, I received a small bequest. At the time I needed two things: a new bed and a new car. Mom’s money made possible both a brand new 1998 Toyota Celica in ‘Renaissance Red’ and a queen-size brass sleigh bed. Both were amazingly sexy. Mom would have been delighted.

A couple of years ago I traded my bright red car, which I had named Esmeralda, for a Subaru Crosstrek in a decorous burgundy. I call it Sam. Snow does not deter its rugged energy. It’s a good looking, practical car. 

Now the skeleton of my great brass bed leans against the west wall of my garage, awaiting a buyer from Craigslist. In its stead, I have a white wooden platform bed. Significantly smaller than its predecessor, the new bed’s headboard is now against the north wall --- where I believe the feng shui is better – and where my brass headboard could not fit because of the slant of my bungalow’s ceiling.

My whole bedroom is open and airy. I like it. Herbie my cat likes it. And the new bed is lower, making ascent/descent easier. It’s a little more boring, more practical. But it’s still a double bed. The likelihood of nocturnal non-feline company for a septuagenarian with overabundant anatomy is not high, but you never know. 

Mom would have been pleased.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Shift Happens

The left shift key on my computer sticks.

It’s a minor annoyance when I’m working on something, easily remedied by tapping it then typing over whatever I have written. But it turns out that a stuck shift key is the equivalent of the nail for the want of which the shoe was lost.

Friday I was supposed to rendezvous with other members of my writers group at 8:30 a.m. then travel with them to another member’s new home. Herbie (my cat who is not doing well at all) threw up. Tending to him, I was delayed, arriving at the rendezvous point eight minutes late. No one was there. Although the directions to the new home had been shared, I did not have them with me. And because I left in a hurry, I didn’t have my cell phone. I could think of nothing else to do except drive the 20 minute trip home and find phone numbers and directions on my magic machine (computer).

When I logged in, I was rejected. No matter what I did, I could not access either my word program (which had the document with directions and phone numbers) or my email. Oddly, I could access Facebook. I still don’t understand that. I left messages for each member of the group but the odds of their reading/responding were astronomical.

I rebooted the computer. Still nothing. Then someone suggested restarting. [I had thought rebooting and restarting were the same. They’re not.] So I restarted and tried logging in … making sure the left shift key was not depressed. Voila! I found the document and called our hostess and got directions and got to the meeting, a mere 90 minutes late.

After the meeting, I lingered to admire the member’s new home. She suggested we go out to lunch. It seemed like something she’d really like to do so we did. We found a nice, cool restaurant and ordered a refreshing repast which we were enjoying when I asked the waitress what time it was – 1:47.

I was supposed to be at another meeting, in another place by 2 p.m. Indeed I was supposed to chair the meeting. And we needed to pay, to get my friend home and I needed to drive 15 miles south to the meeting in another town.

I was late again. This time ‘only’ about an hour. It was just one of those days. Beware shift keys.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Colorado Sweat

After I moved to Colorado from Chicago in the fall of 2002, I would often take great delight in telling those still embedded in the great metropolis, how much nicer the weather was here. 

Not to mention that we had more mountains.

Things are changing.

Last winter, checking the nation’s weather in our local paper, I began to notice that things were not necessarily warmer and drier snuggled up against the Rocky Mountains.

I didn’t brag as much.

Now it is, without question, summer.

Again checking in the local paper, I have noted that the temperatures in Chicago are more reasonable (70s and 80s) than here (90s and an occasional 100+).

Recently there was a small item in our paper that confirmed my worst fears. It seems that summer temperatures and humidity are rising faster in my part of the country than most others (including Chicago). 

It’s that non-existent global warming thing again … only it’s not global, it’s local.

This summer, more than its nearly 14 predecessors, I find that I more frequently have to protect myself with antiperspirant and strategically placed talcum powder.

I now defend myself, as it were, from Colorado sweat.

At least we still have the mountains.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?

[I read this Sunday, July 3, following a spoken reflection on the value of sports (Go Broncos!) as an alternative to violence. Since then, headlines have reflected an apparently unending cycle of violence.]


Until today, I was not a sports fan. My primary physical chemical is estrogen, not testosterone. And I fear that even the Broncos cannot stem the increasingly vitriolic rhetoric and the escalating violence in this country.

How do we hold on to our nascent ideal of universal rights and values? How can we stem the torrents of partisan, seemingly irrational, contention that pervades government chambers and invades our homes through robo-calls and junk emails? What do I do with the surges of anger I feel toward demagogues and the National Rifle Association? How do we move away from verbal and physical violence and return to inching toward peace and justice? Like most UUs, I look for clues in the words of great souls and thinkers.

One of those has to be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The title of his last book was “Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community?” Never mind that it was published 48 years ago. There is probably no better question to ask right now. He had one answer – one that I think we need to read and listen to and learn from. He wrote: "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater; but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

 ‘Only love can do that’. … How wimpy. How profound. How do we get there?

There’s another book that has clues. It’s our grey hymnal. If you open it to the beginning pages, before the first hymn, you will find a list of UU principles and an acknowledgement of the sources from which we draw those principles. It’s okay with me if you stop listening to me and read them right now. For those of you still paying attention, check out the first principle: “We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” [Even demagogues I suppose.] If you scan down to the sources section, there’s this phrase: “Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love.”

Love again. Wimpy and profound. How do we live this?

There’s a smaller book … one of the world’s most valuable – a United States passport. I renewed mine recently. Looking through its yet un-stamped pages, I discovered quotations inconspicuously printed throughout. Of the ten individuals quoted, only one was female. The estrogen representative was Anna Julia Cooper. We used her quote when we lighted the chalice: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.” I had never heard of Anna Julia Cooper. I looked her up. She was born in 1858, the daughter of a slave woman and her white slaveholder. After the Civil War, Anna enrolled in a school for freed slaves. She did well, teaching math part-time at age 10. Married at age 19 and widowed at 21, she enrolled in Oberlin College where she earned degrees in mathematics. She joined the faculty of a high school for African Americans in Washington, D.C. There she taught math, science and Latin (and eventually served as its principal). She was a popular public speaker, encouraging higher education for African American women … all the time working toward a doctoral degree. In 1925, at age 67, she received a doctorate from the Sorbonne having written her dissertation on “Slavery and the French Revolutionists”. . . in French. She raised two foster children and five adoptive children. From 1930 to 1941 she served as president of the Frelinghuysen University for working adults in Washington, D.C. She died in her sleep at age 105.

 I never knew any of that, but knowing all of that, I am even more moved by the quotation printed in my passport: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”

 And it is. And it reflects “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” And the faith that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

 Hold on to those thoughts. Hold on to these truths. They are as close as we humans get to getting it right. And it is only by holding on to these truths that we can inch toward a social order based on universal rights and values.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Calendars and Contributions

They accumulate like unwanted inches around my waistline – the avalanche of requests for my contributions . . . in return for a splendid calendar … or a warm glow. 

It’s July 2016 and I am already prepared to plan the entire coming calendar year. Or would be if I filled in the 365 blank slots on my nascent collections. So much for living in the moment. 

Today was hot. My only air-conditioned room is my upstairs study. 

There, in various piles and files and folders nestled an astounding collection of missives from worthy organizations awaiting my generous donations. 

I recycled about two thirds of them. The remaining third will be pleased, I hope. It’s the best I could do. 

And the fire department can rest a little easier. There’s at least a bushel less paper awaiting spontaneous combustion. 

 But I cannot hide from the heat forever. Having cleared so many nooks and crannies I can descend my staircase assured that my checkbook and I have moved the world a little closer to paradise – or at least something a little closer to the way we/I would like it to be. 

And my cat, having almost given up hope, will finally get his dinner.

Monday, June 20, 2016


Today is the first day of summer. We are immersed in myriad greens. The tulips and daffodils have come and gone. The trees with fragrant pastel blossoms have slipped into lush, darker foliage, providing welcome shade. 

But if you look closely amid the shades of shade you may discover a smattering of white beauty above the roses and remaining iris. It’s the late blooming tree—the catalpa. 

If you were to examine just one of its blossoms, you would be entranced by its delicate ruffles and gold powdered center. But you probably won’t because the catalpa is too tall and its clusters of blossoms too numerous and out of reach. 

I think I’m going to make it my official tree. Like me, it is a late-bloomer. It encourages me – as I approach my dotage – to remember that beauty can be produced in any season. Even summer. 

To be honest, the catalpa isn’t purely beneficial. It grows long, slender seed pods that can clutter yards and alleys. That just makes the analogy more accurate – beauty can exist even if faults and bad habits lurk in the shadows. 

Truly, Mim’s official tree.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


There were about 30 of us gathered in the century-old church, seated in wooden pews, looking toward the altar.

There were 49 candles in rainbow colors arranged on the shimmering cloth.

At the beginning of the little service, each of the 49 candles was lighted. 

Later, we walked single-file up the center aisle. Each of us blew out a candle after a name was read. Some of the names were hard to pronounce. 

The age of the victim was read with his or her name. Some of the ages were incomprehensibly young. 

Some of us had to come up a couple of times. We began to understand that 49 is an incomprehensible number.

Each time a name was read, the steeple bell was rung.

Do not ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for all of us.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

It Takes A Village

Because I live alone, some may assume that I am self-sufficient. Hardly. 

When earlier this week, I connected with a podiatrist, it occurred to me that I have legions working on my behalf. I decided to count them. 

Here’s a list – in no particular order. Some of these help on a regular basis, some only occasionally. 
 A general practitioner *** A dentist *** An optometrist *** An oculist *** An allergist *** A naturopath *** A dermatologist *** An audiologist *** A chiropractor *** A masseuse *** A QiGong instructor *** A Pilates instructor *** A mower of lawns *** A washer of windows *** A shampoo-er of rugs *** A garden helper *** A veterinarian *** A house cleaner *** A house painter *** A handyman *** A pharmacist *** A minister *** A trimmer of trees *** A car mechanic *** A garbage collector *** A recycling collector *** A yard-waste collector *** A mailperson *** A meter-reader *** A roofer *** A plumber *** A hairstylist *** A manicurist *** An editor *** Several grocers (and, indirectly, farmers and packagers and truckers, etc.) That’s a total of 35+ -- plus a podiatrist – that’s 36+. 

 [In addition, theoretically, various elected officials are acting on my behalf] A national senator *** A state senator *** A national representative *** A state representative *** A president *** A governor *** A mayor *** A city council person *** And an assortment of law enforcement personnel 

 No one is really on their own. We are all part of an interdependent web, supporting (for the most part) each other. Probably something we should remember.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Seeing Through Silence

Everyone, it seems, is perpetually listening to something. Everyone, it seems, is permanently connected to a device transmitting music or information or some form of entertainment.

Everyone may be missing a lot.

Recently I participated in a mindfulness retreat in the tradition of the Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hanh.

I’ve been to other such retreats. I know the drill. No talking.
No talking to your roommate/s.
No talking at meals.
No talking while walking.
And of course no talking during sitting meditation or Dharma talks. [The latter are the Buddhist equivalent of sermons.]

Try it for a day. It’s an interesting practice. At first, you may suspect you are going a bit crazy. All kinds of thoughts race around, tumbling over one another in your head – a veritable cacophony.

Stay with it. Focus on breathing – in/out, deep/slow.

The jumble of thoughts may sneak back. Keep breathing. Eventually, there will be a profound silence. And in that silence, a sense of the holy may envelope you.
Breathe it in.

Actually, you don’t have to do this for an entire day. You could find (as I did) large boulder in a mountain meadow where you can sit long enough to actually see your surroundings – see the beauty, the wonder.

Not a bad idea.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Herbie and the Catnip Banana

For 13.5 of his 15.5 years, Herbie the cat has lived with me and with Guinness. 

All of a sudden, there’s just me – pretty boring. Pretty sad. 

When I picked up some supplies at the pet food store, I asked for suggestions that might cheer him up. The young man suggested a catnip banana. I’d already purchased some catnip mice, which seemed far more appropriate. But we were at a low ebb, all ideas welcome. 

When I got home, I began building a ‘playground’ for Herbie – hiding the mice and banana under some tissue paper atop a strange battery-powered toy donated by my friend Marie. 

It was not an immediate success. Mostly he just watched as the tissue paper undulated enticingly. Then, literally, he leapt into action.

I got down on the rug and helped animate the field. He played for at least 10 minutes (almost a record attention span for my sweet blond). 

This morning, I put out his dry food. He ate a little. Then he ate a little of other offerings. Then he meowed as if he needed something else. So I picked him up and petted him. When I put him down, he meowed some more. I got up. He led me into the living room – site of the playground. I got it. 

And we played again. We are going to be okay.

Monday, May 9, 2016

In Memoriam

His favorite toys were fuzzy balls – little fabric balls with sparkly extensions (until the sparkly extensions wore off). 

With them, we played fetch or catch. For catch, I’d throw balls up the stairs and he would bat them back. By himself, he played a sort of soccer, propelling the glittering things all over the house. 

His adopted brother, Herbie, had no interest in fuzzy balls. 

Guinness played with other things – all kinds of other things – even other cat toys. And he chewed stuff – cardboard boxes, manila folders, random papers. But his favorites were the fuzzy balls. 

On Monday, May 2, after four months working with the vet and the steroid shots that kept him going, we had to give up. 

He lay on a blanket, close to my extended right arm as I pet him with my left hand and talked to him about how cool he was. 

 Even then, he purred. Not as loud as before – when he sounded much like a tractor. But he purred for a while. Then silence. 

What a great buddy he had been since the day I brought him home in October 2002 when he was almost one year old. 

In his memory, I filled a glass vase with fuzzy balls and attached a laminated photo. I think he would have liked that.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Happily Ever After

I recently participated in a Roads Scholar Writers Workshop at the Green Lake Conference Center (900 acres somewhat northeast of Madison and southwest of Green Bay). We had assignments following the theme of Lost and Found. Here's one of the pieces I wrote, Happily Ever After, 

She believed them all: Cinderella, Snow White, Maybelline, “An Affair to Remember,” and Seventeen magazine. 

Not to mention several thousand years of patriarchy distilled into her father. 

 When it hailed on her August wedding day, she carried on. 

 When her husband couldn't sustain a career and began drinking, she carried on. 

 When he became the world's foremost authority on everything in the world, she carried on. 

 When he tried to erode her already fragile sense of worth, she faltered but carried on. 

 He cut her 'allowance'. 

There was never enough money for groceries but plenty for luxuries. 

Parental tensions began to erode their sons' behavior. 

 Some things, many things, were wrong. 

 Her doubts became stronger than her faith in fairy tales. 

Her survival instincts grew stronger than her fears. 

She catapulted out of suburban nirvana landing at the edge of the city, on her feet, 

She tore her sons out of their dream of family. Wounded, they survived. 

What happens when a myth dissolves? 

You create a new reality – out of your own resources, out of your own character. 

And gradually, you carry on. 

 Of course there is never a happily-ever-after.... but you come pretty close.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Morning Routines

When sentient beings have lived together a long time, they develop routines. 

My two cats and I have lived together for more than 13 years. When we were younger, our routines were different. They evolved as we aged. 

To begin, I am often awakened by Guinness jumping up on my bed, near the pillow. Herbie is usually already snuggled in so if I do not immediately arise, Guinness will hunker down, accepting human strokes. Herbie, alerted, will amble up toward my face and plop down. I think it’s an equal time thing. 

So we stay, the three of us, just enjoying the gentle coziness. 

But it cannot last. I get up and shower. Herbie will sometimes follow me into the bathroom, begging fresh water and sometimes walking into the shower stall after I’m through, then leave, leaving little paw prints on the tile. Usually, he then goes back to bed. 

Guinness waits until I have dressed and completed my morning ritual then he follows me into the bathroom to help me put on my glasses and hearing aids. Actually he’s not much help. He jumps up on the vanity then puts his paws on my shoulder and jumps so I pretty much have to hold him. 

Sight and hearing restored, we descend after I call out to Herbie that I’m going to make breakfast. 

Common sense dictates that I fix the cats’ breakfast first, then mine. Guinness sits on the floor to the right of my feet as I eat and read the paper. After waiting what he considers long enough, he gently pats my ankle with one of his paws. If I don’t respond, he jumps up on the table, on the newspaper. He gets my attention. He winds up in my arms, purring. 

After breakfast, as I am washing up, Herbie will wander into the kitchen, looking needy. Like Guinness, he needs his morning cuddle. He gets it. 

Then, finally, we are ready for the day ahead.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

An 'I Love Lucy' Day

I knew when I saw the bacon-wrapped artichoke hearts in the ‘here’s-something-easy-but-good’ case at the grocery store, that I should not buy them. You were supposed to heat them on a cookie sheet. Bacon spatters. The goop inside the artichoke hearts would probably melt. 

But they sounded so good. 

At least I could have used a rimmed cookie sheet. 

But I did not. So I put them in the oven and, only a few moments later, watched smoke billow from my stove. And heard the smoke alarm. I took them out, turned on the stove fan, and opened the back window. 

And then I put them back in the oven! 

And smoke billowed and the alarm sounded and this time I opened another window, the one in the back storm door, breaking a finger nail. 

Eventually the delicacies were done and I pulled them out of the oven and the smoke and the alarm subsided. 

Then I looked at the oven – a greased catastrophe. 

So, what the heck, I turned on the oven cleaning unit (the process takes three hours). And smoke billowed and the alarm sounded . . . eventually subsiding. 

Fortunately, the weather was mild. Open windows were not totally unreasonable. 

Then I looked at the oven racks. Arrgh. 

Seeking counsel at the local hardware store, I purchased a number of cleaning products and, following their advice, put the racks in the bathtub and applied and scrubbed. They will do. 

And the bacon-wrapped artichokes were good. 

Now all I have to do is clean the bathtub.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

All Hail Epsom

When more than 15 inches of wet snow falls on your property and you feel compelled to shovel walks (front and back) and sidewalks and the area behind your garage so you can get your car out ... and move branches that have fallen over the sidewalk and back walk and the end of the alley . . . and you are well over – way over – retirement age but you can’t call anyone to help you because the electricity is out and your landline isn’t working and you could use your cellphone but the people you might call aren’t in your directory … you just do what you need to do.

And that evening, as if you ever had any doubt, you bless the existence of Epsom salts and bathtubs.

I even looked it up and here quote directly from Wikipedia:

Magnesium sulfate (or magnesium sulphate) is an inorganic salt (chemical compound) containing magnesium, sulfur and oxygen, with the formula MgSO4. It is often encountered as the heptahydrate sulfate mineralepsomite (MgSO4·7H2O), commonly called Epsom salt, taking its name from a bitter saline spring in Epsom in Surrey, England, where the salt was produced from the springs that arise where the porous chalk of the North Downs meets non-porous London clay.

So all hail Epsom. And sunshine. 
And the fact that it isn’t supposed to snow again until tomorrow.