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Forever…Home

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…”

Fool Me Once…

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 …

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.

The Peeing Problem

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?

An Emotional Odyssey

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!

What Happened to Recess?

Last night I dreamt about recess with a poignancy I have not felt for a long while.  I remembered as a child how much I enjoyed and looked forward to that time of abandon, a small break in my day to run, to play and to imagine without any thought to the past or any concern for the future.  All I have now are these “snapshots” from my childhood, momentary memories of running and playing tag and hide-and-go seek in the grassy areas behind the schools I attended as a youngster…

When did recess end?  When did being so serious about life overshadow the joy of just living it?

So, I awoke this morning with this rawness, this feeling that I want to play again.  I want to feel the rush of the air in my lungs and the joy heartfelt abandon.  In a way, I truly envy my kitties.  They are such visceral, momentary creatures who—sometimes to my chagrin—just live in and for the moment.  If they want love, they demand it.  If they want to chase a ray of sun, so be it.  If they want to scratch or chew, they just do it…

Ok.  I’ll say it.  Put pointer to computer screen.   I want recess, this feeling of joyful abandon.  I truly believe it is the next logical step in creating a vibrant, abundant life experience.

“August, die she must,
The autumn winds blow chilly and cold;
September I’ll remember.
A love once new has now grown old.”

–from April Come She Will by Simon and Garfunkel

The cool, crisp air brings relief to summer’s heat.  Leaves turn from green to a vibrant palate of reds, oranges and yellows.  Autumn has always been evocative, poignant time for me, a time of transition from the summer’s radiant energy, foreshadowing the slumbers of winter. 

It was this time of year, four years ago when we said our final goodbye to Frisco—an elderly male Himalayan who lived to age 18!  Frisco was primarily Roger’s cat, but he did come to accept me, and I grew to love him.  He was the solo kitty (imagine that!) from 2001 to 2007.  When his kidneys finally gave out, we took him to the vet so that he would no longer suffer.  The old coot was ornery til the end.  One moment he was there, hissing at me (I inadvertently touched his paws, and he never liked that!)… and one final heart beat later his pupils dilated and he no longer was…

Where did he go?

Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair that our feline companions live for such a  short time. You are just getting used to their company when they opt for transition.  And there you are, left with memories of joy and feelings of grief and loss.  They give so much and burn out so quickly.  Is this heartache the price we pay for a few years of joy spent with these lumps of love? 

I have lived with a handful of cats that no longer are…except for my memories of them.  Sometimes they passed due to life’s circumstances; others, of natural causes. My love affair with striped tiger kitties started with Lilly in 1988, when Lilly adopted my ex-husband and me as her official caretakers…  It was during the cool of autumn in 1993 when I realized my first marriage was over and I initially left my ex.  We were quite cordial in the division of the marital assets…Lilly stayed with him—partly out of guilt and as a consolation to the breakup of our marriage… I hope she had a good life, a life filled with warmth and love.

There were other felines that I had to say goodbye to…I was with my friend, Sondra, when she had to make the most extreme decision to put down her Millie, her kitty stricken with an oral cancer who was slowly starving to death yet still wanted to live.  It was a two-step process by a vet who came to Sondra’s home…a peaceful transition, but one that is still heart wrenching to think of years after I was witness to it…

And more recently, nearly half of Slug Mamma’s brood are gone, so young and so soon.  Pumpkin was Junior’s littermate, a short-haired white and orange spotted goof who was so personable and friendly. The last time we saw him was an evening in June 2009.  With one grainy photo, I went to local shelters to look for him…but to no avail.

Then there were Blackie’s littermates: Minnie Me, the female version of Orange Kitty.  She was just a year old and had grown into quite the “maxi me,” full of life and vigor.  She was struck and killed by a vehicle January 2010.  That loss was wrenching, since she was mostly socialized and Roger and I could have brought her inside….like Elton John’s  Candle in the wind (ok, this is a post for old song lyrics), her life force burned bright but oh so briefly.  I miss her and think of her nearly every day.  And within a week of her death, Tawny, the third littermate, went out and about and was not to return….

The ending for all of us—cat, human, all living things—is ultimately the same.  We are here for only the briefest of moments.  How do we spend those moments, those beats that pass with the ticking of the clock measuring each breath taken?  Do we spend this precious commodity of time in shame and regret?  Or do we share our essence—our love and joy—with those that matter most?

My cats have been and continue to be a wonderful teacher of staying present to the present.  And a reminder of our most precious, enduring commodity: love.  As in the words, attributed, in part, to the Dances of Universal Peace: “All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.”

Costly Kitties

As cat owners, we expect to pay for pet maintenance such as food, vet visits, toys, perhaps an occasional grooming… but when do these lumps of love become too costly?  Is that even a fair calculation?  They are so loveable, yet at times they wreck such wonton destruction!

I have found their crimes fall into main categories:  inorganic and organic transgressions. Tigger is a chewer of inorganic materials. When he gets nervous (which is often) or wants attention, he chews…my computer cords, the plastic slinky on my desk.  And the most expensive offense: I am now on my 4th hands-free ear piece for my landline phone!  And all the cats like to sharpen their claws on the couches.  And the continual peeing by Junior and Blackie have cost Roger and me plenty in laundering time and purchases of drop cloths and carpet cleaner.

Grrrr!

"Crime Scene" Photo

And these cats are thieves of all types of organic matter!  On a number of occasions, we have found half eaten food strewn about the floor, evidence their petty crimes.  Just last week, one of them wrangled an organic zucchini out of my shopping sack and chewed through more than half of it, leaving a broken and tattered carcass in its wake.  I  was tempted to draw a chalk line around it…I suspect it was Puffy, who has been caught chewing through plastic bags to get to onions and lemons…who knew he had a sweet tooth, as well?

Sometimes I feel I reach my limit on patience, especially when I am cleaning the same covers three days in a row…But, truly, there is no internal score keeping in terms of which cat is more challenging to maintain.  Because in the end, that score is meaningless.  As forever parents of our five cats—a responsibility, joy and obligation we’ve freely and whole heartedly taken—our felines are priceless in terms of the love they give and the lessons we learn about ourselves and life. 

I’ll readily admit that last week was just a particularly trying one for me in terms of their destructive powers, which seems to multiply geometrically since there five of ‘em.  If I come across one more soiled blanket, I feel my head will explode or spin a-la Linda Blair in The Exorcist…but then I take a deep breathe, sometimes a primal scream, and all is well.  Now, where’s a kitty when I need to pet one?

Life’s Simple Pleasures

He’s  a big boy weighing in at about 12 pounds at his last vet visit in March.  He’s a long haired blondie with hints of red.    He’s Puffy, aka The Puff, Big Puff Daddy, Puffenstein,  and sometimes even The Puffernator.

Puffy is the epitome of persistence and a lesson in the benefits of consistency.  He is a simple cat with a hint of the divine—the kitty reminder of stopping and smelling the roses…Puffy’s  needs are uncomplicated, and he revels in life’s sensual pleasures.  Nearly every morning, Puffy is waiting by the back gate, demanding to be let in for his morning dose of mother love.  With his rump raised high in anticipation, the scratching session begins!  Ooooo….ahhhhh….underneath the chin, now.  Oooooh, the belly.  Prrrr.  PRRRR.

In terms of habits, Puffy has his usual sleeping spots: atop of the closet in my office or in a “slot”-like area of Roger’s wardrobe.  Puffy must think of himself as a circus kitty, a feline contortionist when he wraps his big, bulky body around the pole of a kitty tree, hind legs and front paws akimbo. 

And he certainly enjoys just hanging loose.  With his  limbs a-danglin, you can find him precariously perched on all sorts of surfaces:  most currently, atop of the fish tank; and on various high ledges, carpeted cat stairs, or inside the bottom of one of my congas.  That’s right.  I have a set of congas on a stand, and The Puffernator likes to crawl up through the bottom of one of them and just hang, with a hint of his tail peaking through the bottom.  We believe he just exhales to expand and uses his girth to keep him in place.

He’s won a special place in my heart because he has put the prime bully, Blackie, in his place in the household kitty hierarchy.  The Puff is like a protection detail for Tigger.  Sometimes he overwhelms the woosy poosy with his enthusiasm, but Tigger has certainly expanded his in-home roaming range now that Puffy is on the prowl…

Slugg Maa-ma

Sluggo during her "modeling" phase

Maybe I should be  jealous.  She’s cute, small yet has quite the big personality.  She’s looking svelte after a plump phase…and my husband dotes on her whenever she appears. Which, to Roger’s chagrin, is not as often as it used to be.  She’s his furry girlfriend—the other woman.  And there is a lot of history tied into that small bundle of energy known as Sluggo, Slugg Mamma or just…The Slugg.

If you were to look for a definition of a feral cat, you would have seen her picture and a description:  a wide-eyed tortoiseshell calico, wiry, looking for a quick handout and a place to raise her many litters of young.  Yes, for nearly two years this diminutive female was one major kitten-producing machine.

At first, we did not know how to deal with her—which, we actually thought a him, given the cat’s demeanor towards the other ferals: quite the ball buster who took no attitude from other felines or …dogs.  Aptly named Sluggo, at first we didn’t realize that the saggy belly was NOT due to extra fur.  We were so unschooled in handling pregnant cats, and we didn’t realize she was “with kittens” until the first litter: Pumpkin and Junior.  Then the second…Tawny, Blackie, Minnie Me.  Then the last…Chewie, Puffy, Bear and Corrina.

Oyyy…we feared the cat population growing exponentially.  And since we did not want to become the neighborhood cat maternity ward, Roger began to feverishly research ways to humanely trap her for spaying. Yes, you could rent or buy these specialized traps, but Roger just did not like that idea. Our first attempt was a failure: Roger constructed this large, cage-like area on the property.  But the idea was too unwieldy and I was not available to help at the needed crucial moment to close the door—so she escaped and hurt her ear in the process.  Now permanently bent, we both felt really bad over that fiasco. 

That slice-of-life experience was a great looking glass into how available I am and have tended to be over the course of my relationship with Roger.  Sometimes the image reflected back is not very pretty.  

In my mind at the time, I was busily preparing to travel for paid performance gigs south of Denver, in Colorado Springs.  Couldn’t this trapping wait another day or week? I had a week’s worth of early rising, and I had to be well rested for the drive and to perform optimally.  But in my husband’s mind, this was the perfect opportunity to catch this kitten bearer.  And she got away—and stayed away for nearly three months—due, in part, to my not being available.

Sluggo Today

While we both realize we should have done something to curb the kitten producing from the outset, Roger took this lack of forward movement as a personal reflection of his inability to handle life’s circumstances.  And my not being available to help when he was so close to resolving this issue just added to the emotional maelstrom…  As a life partner, I should have realized that my sacrifice in rest would have been greatly offset by  my contribution to marital accord.  Hindsight is always clearer…

POSTSCRIPT:  Roger finally did catch Sluggo—with another type of trap “box,” researched on the internet—and had her fixed late fall 2009. 

 And partially out of guilt and to make amends, somewhat, I’ve continued to indulge my husband’s predilections for wanting the do the right thing…  That is why I agreed to bring the partially feral  Blackie inside the home after Minnie Me died..which created quite a bit of havoc with the cat hierarchy.  But I put my foot down—literally and figuratively—when he started campaigning to bring Sluggo inside.  Seriously?!  A nearly 100% feral female into a home with one woosy poosy and four half brothers?  Roger will just have to be satisfied with feeding his furry girlfriend out in the courtyard.

Just for fun, the cat timeline:

August 2007: Tigger born

November 2007: Adopt the Tiggster from Dumb Friends League

May 2008: Junior and Pumpkin born

December 2008: Blackie, Tawny and Minnie Me born

June 2009: Pumpkin is gone (doesn’t return)

June 2009: Chewie, Puffy, Corrina and Bear born; August they make their debut

September 2009: socialize the June brood; a friend adopts Corrina and Bear

Late fall 2009: Roger trapped and had Sluggo spayed.

January 2010: Minnie Me dies (hit by car) and Tawny is gone

June 2010: Take in Blackie

August 2010 – June 2011: caretake Fuzzy (in courtyard and garage throughout the winter)