The Best Gift

Lately I seem to be surrounded by a fair number of people who have found happy romantic relationships the second, third, even fourth time around. Everywhere I look people are showing wedding photos, talking about just-the-two-of-us vacations and date nights, while I hang out with the two furry loves of my life, Gandalf and Pippin.

My phone is filled with photos of Pippin doing cat yoga and the three of us going for walks.

advanced cat yoga

 

Gandalf, Pippin and me on a walk

cat yoga

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not that I am bored or unhappy or want to start dating again, mind you. I didn’t like dating the first time around and am even less enthusiastic about it now. I have been almost asked out twice in the last couple of years and I basically hyperventilated and fled on each occasion.

Let’s just say I have trust issues.

So maybe it was also because Spring was in the air that I found myself in a Princess Bride state of mind, wondering: Is there really Twoo Wuv? Is there truly someone for everyone? And if so, how many frogs does one have to kiss, for Pete’s sake??

Whatever the reason, I was feeling a teensy bit sorry for myself and my moodiness increased as the day wore on. Night came and as nothing looks good when I’m tired we turned in: Pippin to his apartment on the patio, Gandalf to the cool tile floor and me to bed.

Ten hours later, it seems that all I needed was a good sleep. The cloud of pity from the day before had dissipated as I slept and I made plans for the day over coffee. Gandalf and I headed out for our morning walk and stepping through the front door I nearly threw a hip out attempting to avoid the tiny inert body on my door mat.

Dead mouse, courtesy of Pippin.

I stuck the landing (scored a 9.5), collected my chapstick and keys which had gone flying and stood there in the sun, overcome with wonder. Not at the mouse, but by what it represented.

Love.

Not just from Pippin, who was weaving around my legs and meowing with pride, or from Gandalf, waiting patiently.

But from...everywhere and everything.

I was not only loved, I was beloved, and I belonged in this house, this time, this life.

I was home, I was good, I was…keeping Gandalf and Pippin waiting.

Am I overly sentimental?

Possibly.

Am I one of the luckiest people in the world?

Absofreakinglutely.

 

Gandalf and Pippin snoozing together

Dreaming of Paris

I needed something short to post in order to test drive adjustments I made to the blog and I didn’t want it to be a boring “test post”.
Pippin obliged me by doing…..this. I have no idea what was going through his little cat brain. When my friend posted photos of Cathedral gargoyles I knew he was channeling Paris.                                              
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IMG_1453Mon petit chat! 

 

Gargoyle photos courtesy of Brent Marrott

 

Mom-guilt happens

Someone once said “You do the best you can raising your kids but you never really know how they’re going to turn out until they’re about twenty-seven and by then it’s too late anyway”. I was a young woman when I heard this and thought it was funny; I tried to ignore the feeling lurking in the background that it was probably quite true, and sallied forth to create a family. Ah, youthful optimism…..

Thirty eight years later I could be the model for that saying. Three of my offspring are people I like to hang out with, and do whenever I can. The fourth is…….well……let’s just say she’s twenty-seven and let it go at that.

Any way, two furry kids now share my house and I have discovered the mom-guilt response is still very much intact. I fret over spending enough time with Gandalf and Pippin (indeed, I just am returning from a break to scratch both sets of ears), making sure they have walkers for days when I am at work and of course vet visits.

We were pretty much a once-a-year vet visit family; shots and a physical and we were back on the street. Neither Pippin or Gandalf were that excited about these yearly trips but they were only mildly stressful. Then Gandalf developed terrible breath (he could wake me up in the morning by standing by my bed and breathing on me) and I vacillated about taking him in for a teeth cleaning. He was eating, drinking, peeing, pooping, playing so maybe it was nothing? Did I want to make him anxious by leaving him at the vet? What about the anesthesia risk in an older dog? The voices in my head debated endlessly and I could not make a decision. When a friend of mine mentioned that her very spunky elder dog (a cute little bugger named Jack who has a fang) was going to have his teeth cleaned and she told me she had also wrestled with the decision to have it done; I realized that I, too, needed to just do it. Jack came through with flying colors, minus a few teeth (but still has his signature fang) and greatly improved breath. He even got a post on FaceBook out of the deal. OK. Must do this.

The appointed day arrived and we saddled up and went to the vet. I then went on a hike with Sarah, two of her friends and everyone’s dogs. You can see where the guilt is starting to set in, right? I tried not to think of Gandalf and the cornucopia of smells he was missing. The dogs wove back and forth braiding their leashes together and I felt fairly naked without one at the end of my arm; as there were more dogs than humans, I compensated by rotating being in charge of different dogs. Next time I will have to bring Gandalf. 

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I returned home to an empty house. Pippin was out mousing somewhere and there was no smiling Norwegian Elkhound face to greet me. Oh, Gandalf…..One of the greatest pleasures of my life is being welcomed home; this is how my house would be without a dog. I sucked it up and looked at my watch….the vet should be calling in another hour or so.

I kept busy and the enormity of my life as a dog-mom sank in again. Gandalf has been my constant companion for the last three years and I must confess, the fact that he loves me unconditionally is an experience for which I am eternally grateful. “Help me to be the person my dog thinks I am”. At long last the phone rang and I zipped off to bring him home.

He wandered around the house and yard the rest of the evening and only had one minor yakking episode. The vet report said he was an excellent patient (of course!) and had three severely infected teeth, which were removed. Oh, jeez, I should have done this sooner….not just infected….severely infected. Strong work, Claire.

post op

The next morning I heard panting next to my bed; Gandalf ready to go out….and…..no awful smell. My happiness at seeing him perky again was quickly followed by renewed angst about having been such a ninny and waiting as long as I did. Gawd, it must have been awful for him having those teeth in there….OK. Stop it. You are being a drama queen.

Twice-a-day antibiotics wrapped in peanut butter became a new treat and Gandalf still looked at me with adoring eyes, confident I would do the right thing for him. He had faith in me; time to put on my big girl panties and live up to it.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks.

It’s been bloody hot the last few days and I decided Gandalf would be more comfortable without as much fur. A trip to the self dog wash/blow dry emporium followed by clippering……

clippering

then furminating (Pippin supervised the procedure)

 

….and I have a happy dog!

Good dog-mom! Sit. Stay.

Gandalf the Great

Yes, Gandalf, I’ll stay right here.

 

Re-balancing

 

Have to be tough to live here

I started this post in our typical un-spring-like spring; an entire season ago. Too much time has gone by and so here it is, a little disjointed, but that is kind of the way things have been lately.

Walls of water snuggled the tomatoes and squash through the snow and cold of early summer. I have this great little banana belt micro-climate up against the house that keeps the veggies protected from the frosts that we have well into June. IMG_1376Rain chains now help rainwater to the ground and I am sure they will be equally beautiful with snow and ice this winter.

Easter found me in church and during prayers of the people I heard myself forgiving my former spouse. This was followed immediately by the thought “and stay the hell away” so maybe it doesn’t really count. Ah, well.

Work has invaded every aspect of my life. Being flexible, learning on the fly and thinking two steps ahead are my forte and I feel like I have been living at the bottom of a Niagara Falls-like deluge of new information for the last two months. As if this wasn’t enough, the long-promised new institution-wide computer program finally went live and I began to feel like resistance was futile. I know this for sure: I want to be retired before another electronic medical record change like this comes about.

Nothing says "spring" like new running shoesGandalf and I put some miles on my new running shoes to let the over-worked problem-solving part of my brain take time off. Running reels (reals) me back in….the focus is on the moment; breathing, feeling my muscles power me forward, finding the cadence and zoning out. There is only the dog and me. And the bugs; nothing like inhaling a small insect to break your stride.

The answer of how to restore equilibrium to my life came one morning upon awakening and when I got to the clinic I asked my former manager if I could work for her again. We chatted, struck a deal and I gave my notice (two month’s worth) as there was much training to be done before I left. Tomorrow is my last day and although I will miss the good people I came to know and have I learned more than I thought possible (molecular biology at my age!), I am relieved to be going. And I am only going down the hall, it’s not like I am moving to Canada, eh?

The last time I was in my old/new department I was married; so much water under that bridge I had to burn it down. Gandalf and Pippin are great house partners and I spend a fair amount of time supporting Rebecca. William, Sarah and their families make me realize what a lucky momcat I am and I like flying solo. My last date was in 1976 and I almost got asked out about a month ago but when I said I was busy and happy and had a restraining order and a Glock he moved on. Hmmm….apparently I’ve lost my touch. Bummer.

So here I am on the eve of change again; three years ago Independence Day was marked by the realization that if I was to stay alive I had to free myself from the way things were in my marriage. This year it is merely moving to a different job and gifting myself with a week off to get my sea legs back. I tend to stay too long in situations that are no longer working; maybe with practice I will get better at maintaining balance.

Growing isn’t just for gardens.

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Cabin Fever

Pippin’s cabin fever is conspicuous of late.  More wild-eyed thunderpaws from room to room, more spectacular leaps onto his cat tree, more bouncing into Gandalf. His miaows have become plaintive and he braids a path around my feet as I walk about the house; he is my make-up assistant in the morning and computer helper at night. Clearly, he has about had it with being house-bound this winter.

We are an eccentric little group and the scene that greeted me one evening after my shower was interesting but not out of the realm of what passes for normal in our house.

InnocenceTraditionally, this is how Pippin has notified me that the water dish is empty but I rarely let that happen any more and yes….that is water all over the floor; this was not a Momcat fail.

I watched him for several minutes; he was focused on the dish and had it levitated off the tile I would not have been surprised; he was that intense. But the dish didn’t move and I had a mess to clean up so I broke the spell to put things back in order. With a resolution to make sure the dish was never less than half empty (half full? I am an optimist by nature) we turned in for the night.

My confidence in Plan A (keeping it full) was rewarded for several days; apparently Pippin was just being picky. We had a spell of calm weather and he resumed his walks with Gandalf and me. Problem solved.

Until…..

Really, Pippin? You're kidding!Assuming an air of incredulity (how could this possibly have happened?) he wove miaowing around my feet to tell me he was just as astonished as I was. The water dish must be haunted….yes…..that was it; he had kept it from running amok and had averted a soggy catastrophe; I should be proud of him. He continued his tale as I mopped up, embroidering the story until I dubbed him Sir Pippin The Brave. He seemed pleased with that and wandered off to bed.

When I was working in the emergency department I frequently took care of women with abdominal pain and one of the triage questions for them was “Are you pregnant?”. More often than I would have liked the reply was “I hope not.” Hope is notoriously lousy birth control and this leads to Life lesson #2: “Hope is not a method”.

While I “hoped” Pippin wouldn’t tip the dish over again, the realist in me knew I had to do something; optimism is actually realism with a smile.

Therefore it was with renewed determination and pink duct tape I moved to Plan B.

Plan BThis was a few weeks ago and again I thought the problem had been solved. Did you catch the past tense there?

I think Pippin uses the time I am in the shower to get into noisy mischief; the other night I walked into the living room to the sound of scraping coming from the kitchen. Gandalf looked at me; “Mom….he’s doing it again.” I peeked around the doorway so see Pippin with his paw in the dish reservoir, carefully backing up while maneuvering the entire system out into the middle of the floor. He looked up, miaowed as if to say “My work here is done”, and strolled away to settle on the footstool.

I have no words for this. No water on the floor and he gets to do……this; I count it as successful interspecies negotiation.

I love that cat.

Night Eyes….I don’t have them.

Autumn equinox has passed and the night lingers in my mornings. I am loath to disrupt the coziness of my little hobbit-house with bright electric lights; even PippinTook stays out of the  blinds as our day begins. Orion has returned to usher us on our morning walks and this week I can barely see Pippin so that would mean it is Very Dark.

Pippin used to be an intermittent walking companion but since Tigger Linus moved to the city he has been glued to Gandalf and me and we all trundle out into the inky dawn. Gandalf now wears a dangly collar light; I was going to get plain white but multi-colored was on sale so we went big; the result is a kind of breakdancing disco firefly at the end of the leash. I would love to get a light for Pippin, too, but I am pretty sure he would not appreciate the visual and there would be bloodshed trying to get it onto him so he gets to go commando.

One morning last week I reluctantly emerged from my softly lit lodging for the walk before work and by the time we returned I noticed my gait was off. Having lived for years in worst-case-scenario I was pretty sure I was having a stroke and would be found in the street when it finally became light enough to see….nah…..it was just that my shoes were wearing out weirdly. I got the boys settled for the day, jumped in the car and drove to work. It wasn’t until I noticed the same odd step on my way in from the parking lot that I looked down:

 

 

IMG_0187 *sigh*

Maybe I am the one who needs the dangly light!

 

Star Wars in my back yard

With a trill and a blur he was behind me before I could look up from my coffee. Gandalf, Pippin and I were basking in the morning sun on the patio; the boys were having their first nap of the day and didn’t even twitch a whisker as our visitor whipped by. I turned and there he was, a male Broad-tailed hummingbird having a heyday in the hollyhocks. He visited most of my flowers, flew up to sit on a tree branch and glared at me, deploring the lack of a feeder in my yard. He sat patiently (as much as that word can be applied when speaking of hummers) in the tree until I put down my coffee and went off to dig the feeder out of the garage, then he sped off with a satisfied whir.

Within minutes of hanging it he was back and a few hours later there were three hummers zipping around like little TIE fighters from Star Wars. I never get tired of watching them and since my yard is small, I have a front row seat at this air show. Warp speed is the rule of the day and the “hover” is often accompanied by an energetic chippy chatter.100_1150

 

 

 

 

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I used the zoom on my camera to get this shot (along with a bazillion others). Several years ago however, I had a few hours to spend and used that time to become part of a post next to a hummingbird feeder. Within thirty minutes of standing very still the hummers decided I was no threat and returned. The aerial acrobatics and dogfights resumed with vigor, making up for lost time. Holy cats, they were fast! They flew perilously close to my head; I thought I was going to lose an eye more than once and had to lean my head on the post to keep from reflexively dodging. I don’t know if they ever crash and burn but the next time I do this I might wear safety glasses. Really.

Hummer portrait from that day and yes, I was that close. Look at those tiny little toes!Hummers 007

Fast forward to this morning; it has been weeks since I started this post. The summer has been the best in years and I have spent every minute possible outside reveling in the peace and deliciousness of it all. We have now had our first frost, the days have gotten shorter and the TIE fighters have sped off to warmer galaxies.

Gandalf is waiting patiently for me to go outside; Pippin less so (he has been in the blinds once already). My boys remind me that remembering summer is nice but today is the only day we have so hit the *publish* button already and let’s go for a walk!

 

Rescue Me!

He was found in a barn; no mom, no litter mates, just a persistently cheerful ball of fur. The people at the barn didn’t know where he came from, either, and when he was still there the third time she arrived to ride the deal was sealed; she was taking him home.

He was a pot-bellied, tabby-ish, white-socked little guy and the first stop was at the vet. Aside from probably having worms and surviving on a minimal diet, he was healthy. With the vet’s stamp of approval, he arrived at his new home, good-natured but a little shaken after shots, lab work and worming medicine. In spite of being raised in a barn he had impeccable litter box habits and was a smart, jolly little bugger. Kitten cuteness aside, he had an exceptional personality, a living lesson in resiliency and enjoying every moment. It was going swimmingly until he met Inside Cat.

Inside Cat was well-loved in spite of having such subtle personality traits it seemed he had none at all and the appearance of the kitten produced a reaction the depth of which had never before been witnessed by his humans. The kitten (now named Gobbi) was not going to be able to be an inside kitty at her house. OK….how about being a barn-only kitty? No, he had just been rescued from full-time barn living. Several days went by and Inside Cat did not return to his usual state of ennui; Gobbi must find another home.IMG_0309_2

He was on the verge of going to the no-kill shelter when I ran into one of his humans in the grocery store, heard the tale and saw the photos. I have thought for the last two years that Pippin (the sweetest, most social cat in the world) would require other animal companionship once Gandalf passed from this realm and when the time came I would get another cat. Gandalf was still hale and hearty and I only went to the store for eggs but it seemed I would come home with a kitten. Ummm…..well……OK. It felt right and I resolved to let it marinate for a day or two before making the final decision.

I awoke the next morning knowing that this kitten was too remarkable to be put into the New family photoadoption pool; he would come to my house. I wasn’t sure he was really meant to be mine but I hoped so; it had been a long time since kitten antics graced my home. Phone calls were placed and Gobbi (now named Merlin because he *magically* appeared) arrived. Rebecca was ecstatic and I was tickled. Gandalf The Ever Patient let Merlin bounce around him. Pippin was disinterested; this was getting off to a good start! It seemed that enlarging my family by one small life was in the cards.

We spent the next day enjoying the show; bounce, skitter, somersault, race across the floor and skid to a stop. Stalk and kill all the fluffy balls. Again. Careen around corners and slide into Gandalf, leap tall footstools in a single bound. Well, maybe two single bounds. Snack, drink, litter box, repeat. Catnap and sideways kitten hop; it was a day filled with laughter and not getting much of anything else done. That night he slept with Rebecca and she reported that he hunted bedmice in the wee hours. She changed his name to Tigger because he was so bouncy and he reminded me of Linus from “Peanuts” so at last he had a formal name: Tigger Linus Wholam, also known as ‘TL’.

With the bestowing of The Name came the ghost of a sensation I thought no longer existed. I have spent the last several years trying to put my life back together and welcoming Tigger Linus felt….new. Forward-looking, not just picking up debris. Participating in something starting from now. New legs. Air in my tires. Wind in my hair and bugs in my teeth. Hope. And I was able to feel it because I opened my life to a kitten.Wore himself right out!But I digress.

The next day began much as the previous day had ended; rowdy. Tigger Linus sidled over to the cardboard scratcher and went to town on it. Cardboard flakes flew and the noise woke Pippin from his first nap of the day. He instantly morphed from this:into this:

Lordamighty, Pippin! Did you not notice him until now?

I scooped TL up and Pippin stormed outside to sulk. This pattern would be repeated several times over the next few days and doubt about what I had thought was the right thing to do started seeping in around the edges.

A week elapsed and Pippin actually stepped up his anti-TL campaign. Gandalf stopped eating; he is a sensitive soul and whenever there was hissing and surliness he averted his eyes, pained at the display. TL made the best of the situation and remained good-humored and cuddly, counting on me for the right choice about his future. Since I had no clue as to what that was, I asked the Universe and a few days later it came to me.

I have a friend at work who, in the last couple of years has lost her old cat, her old dog and her not-so-old husband. Squince, her remaining dog (and one of the most extraordinary beings I have ever met) was now her only housemate. We had often talked about our animal families and life’s vagaries and there it was: TL belonged to her; he just had to come through me to get there. I sent texts and photos and by the end of the day it was arranged; Rebecca and I would deliver TL to his forever home.

New family portrait

Time flies when you’re having fun and here we are, two weeks later. Pippin is Gandalf’s and my best friend again. TL has yet another name….DoeDoe…..after his soft brown eyes. He and Squince play and nap together and one day his Momma tried to describe to me this unfamiliar sense of optimism that had come to her life along with the kitten. Yes, I understood this completely…..finally, after a long dry spell, some rain in the desert.

Who rescued whom?

Who rescued whom?

Summmmer-time…..

The day begins

I don’t even know how to start this post…I am just so happy I could spit. I do feel bad about killing the ants, though. I was down for peaceful co-existence but they were all about world domination and it just wasn’t going to work. It was them or me.

 

Anyway, two summers ago I was looking for a place to live, last summer I was trying to sell my old house and pay the bills and this year……I am awash with gratitude to have been given what I need.

I feel like I should sacrifice a virgin or something and of course I won’t but the indebtedness feels that big; beyond words. But not beyond pictures…. so here is my offering; snippets of my days just for you because “To have joy one must share it, happiness was born a twin“.

My friend and I went for a hike, got rained on, had a splendid time. While I have lived here for years, she is a recent arrival and asked, “Do you ever get used to these views?”

Nope, never get tired of them.

 

Rebecca and I went to the zoo one day and yes, it really was this hot.

 

 

The bok choy bolted but the flowers are cute little yellow guys so I am enjoying them for a while. I think it was too hot when they were coming up; I will plant some more now that it is a little cooler. I love my garden experiment and am thankful I do not have to survive off what I grow this year!

 

 

Fortunately, the professionals have growing fruits and veggies down to a science and my CSA boxes are like Christmas every week.   

Gandalf dozing on the grass

Gandalf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pippin snoozing in “his” chair

 

 

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the Norwegian Elkhound.

 

 

 

Last Sunday I rode my bike to church then afterward kept going up the valley. Storms built and dissipated and I picked a few clouds to watch; I used to do this during the long days on the tractor at the ranch.

Look up! If your nose is always to the grindstone you will miss the story in the sky.

More gifts: friends, free concerts and a Great Blue Heron flew over Gandalf and me at dawn yesterday morning. Being able to go to work. Being able to punch out and come home. Knowing that even the tough days have goodness and mercy in there somewhere. What I learned in Al-Anon: One day at a time. It’s really all we’ve got and if someone tells you different, they are selling something. (Thank you, Princess Bride).

 And the most serendipitous finding in ages was provided by one of my favorite blogs, “Hooker’s Horde” hookershorde.wordpress.com

I discovered that Gandalf’s paws smell like popcorn!