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Archive for the ‘Life Lesson’ Category

That old saying that dogs have owners and cats have staff is so true.  In terms of archetype, I would describe a cat’s behavior as “king”:  they command more than demand attention—especially when it comes to love and affection.

Picture this scenario:  You’re paying the bills, penning an email or talking on the phone.  In other words, you’re just not giving your domestic feline enough attention as he patiently waits by your feet.  Since his world revolves around his immediate needs, up he jumps onto the desk to be closer to his human caretaker.  You pet, scritch behind the ears and then return to the task that has taken your focus.  Of course this is not good enough.  So with a barely noticeable swipe of the paw, a trinket is gently swept off the desk…  You notice, pick up said item and gently chide the offender—with the goal of returning to the task at hand.

But yet again, this is not good enough.  In his world, you have not provided enough attention. For a more dramatic effect, the offending kitty might choose to take a flying leap and ski across your paperwork—with documents aflutter and limbs akimbo.  After a few deep breathes, you gently toss the offender out of the room and close the door in a huff.  Bad kitty!

But of course our cats are not being bad.  They are just being the kingly, self-focused creatures they were born to be.  It was during this slow and somewhat reluctant realization I discovered the joy of the head nuggie—that robust rubbing of the noggin to express love, affection and…ownership.  In addition to five felines, we now have a menagerie of neon tetras and semi-aggressive tropical fish (angels, tiger barbs, clown loaches, silver dollars, catfish), two albino African claw-footed frogs and hundreds of apple snails.  (Well, we started with just three, but they did what nature does best.  I think we now have a handle on snail population control…) One afternoon while lying the floor and admiring how fast our snail progeny has been maturing, Junior, with vigor and focus, started rubbing his head against mine.  I needed to pay attention to him!  But then I decided to do something quite feline-like—I rubbed his noggin back, nuggie-style—and I liked it!

That afternoon the nuggie session was born.

I have seen the kitties rub up against each other, but this is the first time I had the honor of being a recipient of a head nuggie.  I did research on this phenomenon: http://hglick.hubpages.com/hub/Cat-Symptoms.  So, I’ve been officially anointed by the kings (and princes) of the household—a great honor for a mere human, ehhh?

I have now experienced the quiet joy of the head nuggie with Tigger, during our nightly calming and cuddling ritual before bedtime; with Puffy during our morning bed-making routine; and with Chewie whenever he demands a good face rub and a brushing.

Yes, our kitties can be frustrating and self-centered at times, but their simple outlook on life is also quite refreshing:  Imagine a life where, without any need for explanation or justification, you just ask for what you want.  Simple and to the point.  No need to prove your worthiness to be a recipient of life’s abundance.  And then you wait for it manifest in all its magnificent glory.

Imagine that, indeed.

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Sit here.  Down.  Stop.  No! 

The illusion of control.   If our felines beckon to our desires and demands, it’s only because our demands coincide with their momentary wishes to satisfy sensual pleasures… We might believe we have dominion over these beasts, but just wait until you’re out of the room…

According to my research, http://www.a-house-full-of-cats.com/catbehavior.html, cats have this limited, self-focused world view whereby they act (believe?) that the world revolves around them.  I want what I want and I want it now…so there!  I read somewhere that domestic kitties have the intellectual capacity and temperament of a toddler or young preschooler. And—unlike most human children—they remain this way throughout their lives.  Rather than wish this were otherwise—futile as it is—I am learning to accept this truism about feline companionship.  And to adapt my behavior to meet their needs while managing my expectations and mental health realistically.

So I know, intellectually, a cat might jump off a kitchen counter when I demand this of him with a strong voice and pointed index finger.  I also know that when I walk out of the room—up again he’ll jump to explore those cracks and crevices, sights and smells…  Therefore when I prepare and serve food, of course I always disinfect those surfaces beforehand.  I’ve been trained well.

And yet this seeming lack of obedience has a side benefit:  living totally for the moment, cats have this most wonderful ability to give us 100% of their attention—at least for brief periods.  The purring and the cuddling awakens in any cat lover a visceral connection to this magnificent yet vexing beast.  And then, like any ADD-addled creature, off they go to explore those new sights, sounds or smells…

We think we are teaching our cats discipline and respect, but au contraire, they’re teaching us.  Our relationship with our kitties—as imperfect as it is—is an ongoing reminder of being ever present to those ephemeral opportunities to just live in the moment.   And to let go this illusion of control over things outside of ourselves… A lesson I foresee revisiting often throughout this lifetime.

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The original home of my childhood was quite the mixed bag.   Some experiences were highly imperfect, but they have given me quite the clarity in terms of my life’s focus and direction.  And though I do not live the traditional life my parents would have wanted for me, I love them dearly and know they did their best.  And as they enter the sunset of their lives, I get to explore this concept of home…

What is home?  Is it merely a house with four walls, a ceiling and floor, rooms for various purposes…or is it more?  Is it a feeling of comfort and security, the birthplace of memories and ideas?  A place to return to either every day or every so often?  Does a house become a home with the addition of heart…and soul? 

And once you’ve left home, can you ever go home again?

I have made Colorado my home since 1998.  It was a place I was drawn to, and in early 1998 I took a leap of faith.  That feeling has served me well.  I have found good friends—kindred spirits united in artistic expression—and a second chance at a life partner with opportunities for even greater focus…and, of course, the many critters with whom we share our lives.

Although I left my childhood home in 1986 at the age of 22, there was this odd comfort of knowing that whenever I visited my parents, there was this familiarity… And even in Colorado, I have looked forwarded to this familiarity whenever I traveled back East to visit.  The trips were not always enjoyable, but they represented a tie to my past, a connection to the beginning of my life’s journey.

But now that familiarity has been inexorably altered.  My father is 86 in ailing health, and my 80-year old mother’s Alzheimer’s is progressing at a rapid clip.  I did return to the East Coast twice in June to help my sister, Robin, pack up their home of 40+ years so that they can be moved closer to her, outside of Philadelphia.   Two days after I returned from my second trip my mother suffered a massive heart attack.  It was heart wrenchingly touch-and-go for a few days, but now she is recuperating to the extent possible in a rehab facility near Robin.  And in the midst of all this chaos, my sister and brother-in-law somehow managed to supervise my crotchety old father and the move that recently occurred. 

So, I will never again return to the home of my youth.   How odd that the telephone number I’ve known and called for over 40 years is now disconnected.  What was once my home is now just a house, an empty shell—its walls waiting to keep the secrets, joys and sorrows of yet another family…

So again, I ask:  what is home?  And does the concept of home have to be so complex?  Perhaps I can take a life lesson from the felines with whom I share this life.  They’re simple creatures, really.  Once you bring them home and they get a “lay of the land,” that’s it.  Just feed them and love them.  Clean out those litter boxes.  Scratch behind the ears or on the belly.  Oooohh.  Yes, occasionally they want to explore what is beyond the threshold.  But they do return, more often than not.   

And that’s enough for them.  True home is this feeling of love and security.  Perhaps we humans make too much of a particular place, of wood, brick and mortar.  Maybe home is just this gift of the present moment.  And much like my mother’s Alzheimer’s that is robbing her of her past, in a strange way it is a gift, as well.  Because for her, home is where she is right now.  

Maybe we, too, can find our “forever” home in the true gift that is the present moment. 

Postscript:

In light of the recent tragic events in Colorado, I find Skylar Grey’s rendition of Coming Home a haunting reminder of the beauty of home—wherever and whenever that might be—and the power of forgiveness:

“I’m coming home
I’m coming home
Tell the World I’m coming home
Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits and they’ve forgiven my mistakes…”

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Shame on you.  Fool me twice, poop on me.  Animal behavior is a conundrum to the power of 10.   Take fear.  All living beings experience and react to fear.  Perhaps we lash out, or we run away and hide.  But have you ever been so afraid of something that you froze in terror and literally pooped in your pants?  That your only response was to mewl plaintively while soiling yourself?

None of our cats likes the sounds and perhaps the vibrations of the vacuum.  But like many of life’s chores, it is a necessary evil—compounded by living with so many lumps of love. So once a month (I know, it should probably be more often) the loud, grating monster emerges from the closet to vanquish the fur balls, crumbs and life’s other detritus.   While four of our five cats put up with this inconvenience with perhaps a dirty look or hiss, Tigger takes his fear to a completely new level.   Not only does he begin to mewl presciently, he growls and then runs as if his fur is on fire to hide.  During the last two vacuum sessions, I have found his muddled mass clumped in a corner covered in poop.  Yes, poop.  Poor Tiggy.  Poor me.  My wonderfully lovable, quirky kitty is so scared that he’s pooped on himself.  So not only do I have to calm him down enough to clean him, I have to clean up a pile of… well, you know.

This is a relatively new behavioral phenomenon for The Tiggster.  At first I thought it was an anomaly, but after this second recent occurrence, it seems that his fear of the vacuum monster has grown exponentially.   Unlike humans who have the capacity to talk through feelings and perhaps come to different conclusions about circumstances that cause distress, there is no luxury of verbal communication with our feline companions.   If I could only do away with the need to vacuum…  Ok.  Unrealistic.  All I can do as his human caretaker is to continue to love Tigger unconditionally.  And to place him in the bathroom next time I vacuum.  At least the bathroom will be easier to clean.

And now I’ve discovered Tigger has a fear of thunder.  Twice this past week I have found him lurking underneath the bed …

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Life has this way of sneaking by, and before I realize it, the moments have passed before I have had the chance to reflect on them.  It’s been a while since I’ve shared on this blog…

My attention has been elsewhere.  Roger and I are striving to become better human beings and partners to each other.  Continuing lessons include staying focused and keeping our commitments to ourselves and to one another… Being in the now does provide momentary relief from the lessons life constantly provides.

It’s been nearly five months since Chewie’s “Great Escape and 11-day Outdoor Adventure.”  It’s as if he never left, and he seems quite content to live the indoor lifestyle.  But we will not be tricked into complacency!

And, Roger has kept his word to Chewie:  We have not one but three tricked out warm water tanks!  In addition to five felines, we are now the caretakers of a variety of warm water fish, two crawfish and two albino African clawed frogs (Pinky and Peetie) .  Yes, we have quite the menagerie of fins, flippers and furbies.  And, yes, I do have an admiration for alliteration…  The tanks are Roger’s primary new hobby.   And all the cats do enjoy their new live “television” experience!

And life has gone on for our kitties.  Throughout all the changes and the passing of time, they remain as they are—beacons of hope, reminders of the present.  Still fighting and cuddling.  Still puking and peeing.  And still remaining lumps of irrepressible love.

My promise is to resume posting regularly to this blog.  This artistic outlet is one of many varied, creative lifelines anchoring me to this world of color, texture, taste…to this sensual life, brimming with joy, love, grief and sorrow.  But a full life, nonetheless.  And I’m not yet done…there are still a few items left on my bucket list.  But, first, I must find and pet a kitty.

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Yes, readers, we need help!  Both Blackie and Junior have this predilection for urinating outside of the myriad of boxes available around the home for that purpose.  Yes, they do use these litter boxes, but they also tend—quite frequently—to go outside of the box.  Junior especially likes the couch, and Blackie has a thing for peeing on Roger’s feet while he naps in the den…

To-date, we have tried a more “Zen” approach to the situation by just handling the incidents: we’ve resorted to covering the couch and the futon with drop cloths, and we launder these coverings and sanitize the areas quite often… But this is getting tiring .. I know we ought not take this personally, but it’s hard. 

Re-homing our furbies is NOT an option.

As added background:  Both Blackie and Junior (half brothers from different litters) lived part of their early lives out on the street (ok, in our courtyard and backyard), and Roger brought them in when they were about a year old…  Roger saved them and is quite committed to their care…

Any suggestions for breaking them of this rancid habit?

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The last month of 2011 has turned out to be quite the odyssey.  An emotional rollercoaster of regret, sadness, irritation, hope…and gratitude.

The Monday starting the second week of December began like most any other.  Chewie, transparent as always, woke up Roger with a little kneading and cuddling—with the ultimate goal of earning an early morning snack.  After snacking all our furbies, Roger kissed me goodbye and was about to leave for work.  And, then…

He just bolted.  Chewie got underfoot while Roger was fiddling with the front door, leaving Roger in a daze and Chewie off to God-knows where.  We looked for him for most of that Monday, through the neighborhood, hoping to see a glimpse of him hunkering down…but nothing.  We were so fearful he ran too far he could not find his way home…or that he met his fate with some other beast or vehicle.

By that Wednesday, we posted a lost kitty ad on Craigslist and affixed flyers around our neighborhood.  We looked for him continually and hoped to lure him home with treats…but nothing. Was he scared?  Upset with us?  Lost and hurt?  Or…did he just prefer the life of a street kitty??

This turn of events was disheartening but not surprising.  Of all the indoor cats, Chewie was the one who expressed the most interest in exploring what was beyond that front door.  I guess his curiosity, desire and need to investigate outweighed his desire for safety, comfort and love from his hairless beings. 

Then, by the end of the first week, our regret and sadness turned to irritation.  On Thursday evening, we caught a glimpse of the fur beast just lounging outside our back door!  But when we went to let him in, Chewie bolted…again!  What the  F*%^&*$?!  Now we felt incensed and exasperated.  Ok, he was not hurt, alone or lost, and we felt relief over that.  Now he just seemed to prefer the outdoors?  Was Cheiwe afraid to approach the front door because of Sylvester or Orange Kitty?  Were we just trying to come up with answers, anthropomorphisng our ten-pound headache, in the attempt to understand the changing circumstances?  Even his two older half brothers, Junior and Blackie, eventually returned home after several unscheduled excursions.

For nearly a week, I feel asleep praying that Chewie was ok and trying to understand why he wouldn’t come back.  Of course, Roger felt horribly guilty for not paying better attention and vowed to make our home more inviting for Chewie by refurbishing the fish tank and stocking it with more fish for the viewing pleasure of all the kitties.

Well, we did catch sightings of Chewie several more times.  But in the end, Roger resorted to trapping our furbeast with one of our humane traps.  Yep.  After 11 nights out-of-doors, Chewie came home—a little skinnier and rumpled, but he’s home now.  And within an hour of his homecoming, he came out from hunkering underneath the bed and rubbed against his hairless beasts as if nothing had happened, no time at all had passed.  And of course our hurt and annoyance just evaporated into wellsprings of gratitude. 

Maybe in his mind, no time had really gone bye.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to truly and whole-heartedly live just in the moment?  One moment you’re inside—woo hooo!  The next moment you’re outside—woo hoo!  No recognition of the passage of time, and no regret for what is not happening.

We higher-level beings are the ones who suffer—perhaps, even by choice—when things do not seem to go our way, or when we do not understand why something is occurring.  If we could truly live in the now, would there be any place for suffering, regret and shame?  Would we take for granted life’s impermanence and the gifts of love, kindness and friendship?

Chewie and Junior Relaxing

Chewie has now been home 9 days.  He has had to re-earn the title of kitty goodwill ambassador….when he was gone, he left quite a vacuum and the power hierarchy among the four remaining felines began to shift…The first to melt was Junior, after a day, but Puffy and Tigger were still quite vocal with their displeasure.  But after a week, Roger caught a glimpse of Chewie and Puffy cuddling, and I have witnessed the beginnings of Tigger wanting to again play with the Chew-butt.  Blackie still keeps to himself…

Roger now owes the cats one tricked-out fish tank—the first resolution 2012!

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