What the Hell

What the Hell

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Northwest News: If You Can't Keep Your Cat Inside Don't Get One.

Ok, here it comes, the rant.  I am a cat lover.  An animal of any kind lover actually, but cats have a special place in my heart.  I have always had a pet...dogs when I was growing up, and when I was first married.  

We had the wonder dog Jenny.  Jenny came to live with us when we were moving my husband into his grandmother's old house the summer before we got married.  I was still in school, but had come to help him settle in before the fall semester started.  Jenny was a pup of about 3 months, who lived across the street with the neighbors.  She was a funny looking, bouncy thing with huge ears like a rabbit and full of energy.  She came over to help too, and with the front door open to facilitate bringing in furniture, she waltzed right in like she owned the place. I remember my future father-in-law saying "Whose damn dog is that?"  I got a call from my now husband a couple of weeks later saying he had gotten a dog.  "Guess which dog?" I remember him saying.  The neighbors came over and said that she wanted to live with us and not them and would we like a dog.  She came with the name Jenny.  Oh God, how we loved that dog.  She was with us through thick and thin for our first 17 years of marriage.  She moved with us to three houses in the DFW area, corporate housing in a high rise in Marina del Rey and a tiny tract house in the San Fernando Valley, then up the coast to Redmond, Washington.  We had hoped she would make it until we bought our own place, but we lost her in April, and closed on our first house in November.  She had a companion named Joey, a little Shepherd/Eskimo mix that had less than a whole brain, but was as sweet a dog as you could imagine.  Joey left us 6 months after Jenny; not sure how to go on without her friend.

In the months before we left Texas for California we got our first cat, Miss Joshua.  Miss J had a male  name because, not having had cats before, we took my sister's word for it that she had gotten us a male kitten.  It is rather harder to sex a kitten than a puppy.  By the time we had her in for her first vet visit, the vet took one close look and said, "this is a girl."  Joshua she had been for 8 weeks, Joshua she would remain, with a "Miss" in front of it.  It just didn't seem fair to change things on her like that.  She loved tormenting the dogs.  They knew they could not show aggression against this cat, even though they had with strange cats in the past.  We had a talk with them, and they just understood.  And she took full advantage of that; chasing them whenever  they were inside the house.  They would look up at us like "What can we do, PLEASE??"  

After both of our dogs were gone, we were so heartbroken we just could not bring ourselves to replace them.  It never felt right to get another dog...not if it wasn't Jenny.  So we started getting cats.  We now have five.  We would have more if we had a bigger house and more disposable income for vet bills.  We realize now how cat-like Jenny actually was.  Cats are like people...five distinctive personalities, with moods, good, bad and indifferent.  Even their voices are different.  Miss J is gone now; she succumbed to kidney failure at age 14.  That was a brutal loss.  We still go weak at the knees when we see a lynx point grey cat with blue eyes.  There is an altarpiece on our living room wall with her portrait, painted by my artist husband.  She is immortalized.  

Then we have Pumpkin, the big orange male that Jeff brought home from the Safeway where a little boy was giving away kittens in a basket.  He made eye contact with me when Jeff brought him in the house that first day and my life has never been the same.  He is my "boy" and sleeps on my head every night.  He is being treated for the same disease that took Miss Joshua's life, but his kidney function is normal now thanks to our wonderful vet.  

Grizzly Bear and Monkey Toes came 3 years later to provide companionship for Pumpkin, since Miss J wanted absolutely NOTHING to do with him.  Or any other cat or human other than my husband and myself, to be honest.   They were litter mates from a cat rescue in Yakima, the offspring of barn cats.  We ended up with TWO kittens because we had the pick of the litter, and well, you guessed it...my husband picked one and I picked another.  Oh well.  It turned out to be a blessing because when you bring two kittens home they console each other and you don't get crying all night.  

After we lost Miss Joshua, Jeff was eager to bring another cat into our household, but I wasn't ready for nearly 2 years.  It was still painful when an acquaintance of mine rescued some kittens and asked me to come over for a look at them.  There was an orange one, she said, knowing how much we loved Pumpkin.  "I'll look," I said, but I won't promise anything.  After seeing Little Orange, I put the carrier down on the floor to let him get used to it before we had to drive back home.  His brother, a little black kitten, crawled into the carrier and plastered himself up against the back of it, and REFUSED to come out.  He wanted a home, damn it, and he had decided it was going to be mine.  I wondered, "Am I supposed to have this one too?"  So home with me they both went, and when I opened the carrier the Little Orange popped out, my husband said, "Oh!  He's cute!"  Then little Blackie tentatively stuck out a paw.  "There's another one!"  I wish I had thought to say, "How did that happen?"  But I just said, "Yes, there is.  And if you don't want to keep him, he can go back."  Blackie wrapped both front paws around my husband's outstretched hand and proceeded to lick it like a dog.  He was working it big time.  My husband responded, "Oh, we can keep this one too."  Who says cats aren't smart!? That marked the arrival of Howard Pyle (after the American painter) and Alphonse Mucha (after the Czech painter living and working in Paris), better known these days as Howie and Alphie.  

These five creatures have become such an integral part of our lives (just as Jenny and Joey did) that I cannot imagine daily existence without them. I know some pet owners may consider their pets more like a possession.  I do not share their view.  I wish that people who felt that way would not have pets at all.  I respect that some people, for whatever reason, do not like animals, and don't want to share their lives with any.  I respect (and identify with) those who love animals and couldn't imagine living without them.  I do NOT understand people who straddle that fence.  In addition, I might add that the people who treat the animal like a possession probably take better care of their other belongings (their car, their cell phone, laptop, etc.) than they do the pet.  Perhaps not.  In my family there is a tradition of not being able to keep up with one's possessions, but that may not be the norm.    But let me just say, owning an animal is a commitment.  You don't leave it when you move, thinking it will find a new home.  Jenny did, but she was an amazing dog.  Many others would just starve.  Joey would have; she did not trust strangers.  When they both went missing for two weeks when someone opened the back gate of our yard, she camped out under a parked boat the entire time.  Jenny, on the other hand, had already found her "next" home.  I felt guilty making her come back with us.  You don't refuse it medical attention when it needs it.  You treat it with dignity and respect.  It is a living thing, and you, as its owner, like it or not, have accepted responsibility for its well-being.  You have it spayed or neutered, because there are so many unwanted dogs and cats that are already being gassed by the thousands every day because it's either too much trouble or too much expense for someone to bother having a pet fixed so it cannot reproduce.  I don't care if you live out in the country or in the city; it doesn't matter.  Both places have their unique dangers to domestic animals, in the city it is being hit by cars.  Which brings me to my main point....

Pets are DOMESTICATED animals.  They are not wild.  Dogs and cats both like to run and play outside.  Of course they do.  But those of us who live in areas with dangerous predators, as we in the Northwest do, are responsible for our pets' safety.  Domesticated animals cannot defend themselves like a wild animal can, and why would we demand that of them in the first place??  It is unfair.  I wish I had a dollar to donate to the animal shelter for every time since I have moved out West that I have been talking to someone about their dog, or more often, cat that they "used to have" before something "got it."  Meaning the poor creature became food or a plaything to a wild animal, be it a cougar, bird of prey, raccoon (yes, I said raccoon), or coyote.  At best it is selfish denial to allow this, at worst, it is inhumane.  We are not at our best as a race to allow an innocent creature who relies on us for its care to suffer.  As I speak, I am thinking of a couple who live in our neighborhood; who are very nice, intelligent, educated people.  They are wildlife biologists who work with a non-profit foundation that is trying to learn more about and conserve the wild snow leopards.  That said, they put their pet cats outside.  Last time we spoke, they had lost one to an unknown wild animal, probably coyote.  Perhaps their thinking is that the domesticated cat is like the wild cat, and to keep it indoors is cruel?  This is not true, as any veterinarian will tell you.  Cats are perfectly happy to live indoors if you engage them enough.  And even if you have a cat who really, really wants to go outside (like some do), think of it in the same way as you do your toddler.  They might want to go play outside too but do you let them?  Use your brains people!  I just received word of a beautiful cat who lost her life in this way because the owner was in denial about the dangers of letting her go outside despite knowing better.  I know that for some it's the issue of a litterbox in the house.  For God's sake, then put the litterbox in the garage with a cat flap.  Or in the basement.  Or DON'T HAVE A CAT.  

It is perhaps most tragic that the person who brought my Howard and Alphie into my life is the same person whose own cat was just killed in this way.  Such is the paradox of this life... Please, you animal lovers out there, pass this message along, donate to your local animal shelter, and be a responsible pet owner.  

In memory of Bernie, Fritzi, Chloe, Roachie, Tic-Tac, Winter and countless others... 

Friday, February 22, 2013

I Used to Care But Now I Take a Pill For That

I saw this on a t-shirt in a catalog recently and I identified with it.  But not entirely.  You see, I do take a pill for "caring too much," a malady which leads to co-dependence, depression and a host of all sorts of ills.  Been on it off and on for nearly 20 years now.  But the problem is that it doesn't entirely turn off that part of your brain.  Psychotropic drugs are a godsend in many ways, but they're not a miracle.  I still care.  Sometimes too much.  It's much better.  I have periods of relative sanity where I can make it through a day without giving up totally, but there are still the "why can't I stop thinking, God just strike me stupid" "I have to go back to bed and pull covers over my head" days.  I get a lot of well-meaning advice, some of it from professionals... exercise more, eat better, take supplements, meditate, get around people more, find a way to express yourself...etc., etc.  I do appreciate the efforts to help, and I know there is some truth in all of these suggestions, but they're not going to cure what ultimately ails me....ails ALL of us.  

We are human, fallible, finite constantly decaying.  What an undignified, imperfect, frustrating way to spend a lifetime, but I'm not the one in charge and THANK GOD I'm not.  I would have annihilated us all into vapor eons ago.  Some of us are more accepting of our humanness than others; some (amazingly!) even seem to be able to enjoy their status. They're called humanists. I have not ever understood their position.  The human race no doubt IS capable of greatness, but most of the time, is just MESSED UP.  Atheism always seemed a more defensible position to me should I ever give up all hope.  Not that religion offers that in spades.  Yes, there is hope, but those who argue against religion on the basis of it offering an easy way out of the difficulty of life fail to notice that there is a whole lot of suffering that goes hand in hand with that.  Suffering and discipline by your Creator and Higher Power if you will.  But there are those like me, and YOU know who you are, who are not able to tiptoe through the tulips smelling the roses and being ever thankful for the smallest blessings we have, remembering those who are suffering so much more so than ourselves.  Suffering is suffering in our minds, whether it's existential or physical.  We over-think and over-contemplate everything to death.  I think we are wired that way.  

It has to be brain chemistry.  They will discover this one day, with all those brain scans they've been doing.  Our brains, unlike those of our more "normal" counterparts, are the neurological equivalent of the old "mood rings" from the 70's, all blue and green, while other "higher-functioning" brains light up with reds, yellows and oranges like a Christmas tree.  Those of you with the more chromatically balanced brains who are not one of us, but most often, because God has some convoluted plan to make us into more balanced individuals, often LIVE with one of us.  And it is at times an uneasy proposition.  You wonder, "Why does everything have to be so serious with you?," "Can't you just enjoy your life?," or "Can I please go to sleep now?"  The answers are "I have no idea," and "Maybe," and "After I'm done ranting about the human condition."   I have been in therapy now since 2005, and I have a necklace I made with my mantra on it.  It says, simply, "It's OK to enjoy your life."  That may not mean much to some of you, may even seem OBVIOUS to you, but I came from a family of drama in the American South where the family core belief would have been something like, "Life sucks, then you die.  But along the way, what the hell, you might as well be as all-out weird as you can manage, and be damn proud that you are, because others never accepted or understood you anyway."  It's acceptance, yes, but I wouldn't say it's healthy.  More like an overcompensation for poor self esteem. 

Back to the subject.  I still care.  Sometimes too much.  And that dreaded "B" word, BALANCE...I'm still trying to find it, and I feel fairly sure that I will still be looking for it when I leave this planet.  In the meantime, I'm taking vitamins, trying to exercise more, spending less time alone, cutting back on red meat, attempting to keep a gratitude journal  and doing artwork and writing this blog.  For now, that has to be enough; I'm only human.       

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Paint, Pajamas and Feathering the Nest

I have been meaning to write a longer piece about this subject, and I still will, but for now I just want to get it down on paper.  Or, pixels, so to speak.  Women nest.  I'm not being sexist in saying this, and I'm sure some of our male friends are prone to fits of it as well, but not in the habitual, comfortable, dare I say, necessary ways we do.  We especially turn up the volume at those pivotal moments in our lives such as a moving into a new home, bringing home a new child, or when life gets so threatening outside our four walls that sometimes that it somehow makes us feel better and more secure to cocoon in our own sanctuary...as if we can at least control our little corner of the world.  We move furniture, change the curtains, repaint the walls a different color, and in many other ways cosy up our abode.  It must be hormones; I don't know how else to explain it.  The female of any species does it.  Watch the songbirds, the squirrels, the mother cat or dog.  But I think about it, not just when I do it myself, but nearly every time I glance down at my pajamas.  See, I wear pajamas nearly all the time...sometimes even out to the store with a coat over them.  I work at mostly at home so it's not as bad as it sounds.  Plus they are comfortable, soothing, nurturing; like the blanket or teddy bear you carried around during your childhood.  How can anything too awful happen to you in your pajamas?  Interestingly, in my case, every pair I own is splattered somewhere with at least one color of paint from one of the houses I've lived in....evidence of my endless process of recreating myself and my life by recreating my environment, all done in the supreme comfort of my favorite outfit.  It will be that time of year soon when we start fluttering around doing that other related activity...spring cleaning, the time of rebirth and new beginnings.  What will the future bring?  What will we decide to bring with us into it, and what will we leave behind?  

Monday, February 18, 2013

You Know You're Getting Older When....

Rumford actually does make baking powder....
How embarrassing.  I thought for the last 6 months I had either totally lost my cooking mojo or my gas range was not working properly.  Every baked good or bread item I made came out flat!  Biscuits, check.  Pancakes, check.  Cornbread, check.  It was really getting to me.  Then this morning as I started to make pancakes I actually looked at the container of baking powder.  "No, that's not it," I said to myself...."that's CORNSTARCH."  Exactly.  Mmmmmmm, mmmmmm, good.  So I  knew my eyes were going, but this is really bad.  I'm looking for a good price on a lighted magnifier.

This time I can't blame Howard.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Exercise in Paradox

I've been having quite a bit of trouble lately with the idea of paradox...ask my therapist.  For most of my life, I have been very comfortable with black and white thinking.  Unfortuntately that is not conducive to healthy relationships with others, and sets one's self up for many disappointments with the world, seeing as how it is full of seeming contradictions and inaccuracies.  Here are a few paradoxes worth pondering:

Having to work doing something you don't like to do things you like.
Giving to receive.
Loving by letting go.
By the time you appreciate something you have it is gone.
Finding joy involving pain.
By the time you realize how little you know it's too late to learn it all.
Loving to travel but wanting to stay home.
The opportunity of change but the loss it brings.
Wanting something forever then you get it and now you don't want it.
God vs. free will.

I can sit here all day and think of more, but you get the idea.  Like I said, I like an orderly universe.  My husband used to drive me crazy by parking just slightly crooked (and not exactly perpendicular to the detached garage as I would do it) on purpose.  I would sit in the passengers seat and scream at him until he straightened the car out.  I hate crooked pictures on the wall, rugs out of place, too many scratched out mistakes on a handwritten note, etc.  So here is my attempt to reprogram my brain concerning this dilemma.  (along with more cognitive behavioral therapy of course.)

I moved the furniture in the main room of our house (it serves as living/dining room/library.  My art studio space is now in a corner of this room too since the old space in the breakfast nook, while very cheery with it's windows, was absolutely freezing most of the year here in the Northwest.  The furniture is now 'askew."  Everything is on an angle, except the bookcases, which are so bulging with books we would be afraid to NOT have those leaning against the wall.  It is similar to what the Old Master painters would do to critique a painting they were working on; they would either cover one eye and look at it that way, or turn it upside down.  It gives you a new perspective.   In my living space, it feels very strange.  I am trying to force myself to accept the asymmetrical and irrational.  It doesn't feel soothing to be sure.  I will let you know how it works....if it works.  Or if it drives me crazy and I have to move everything back. 

P. S.  The cats don't seem to like it.  But cats HATE change.   That's it; I'm a cat! 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Poncho of Today

BTW,  I'm making me another one.  So there.

The Dreaded Uncool Poncho.....

I'm sure I long ago burned all evidence of mine, but it was similar to this one.

Hush Puppies, Ponchos and Fake Fur...and maybe Bill Gates

Back in the 70's, (yes, some of us were alive back then) when I was a young adolescent, I LOVED my hush puppy shoes.  They were suede, I cannot remember what color.  I've blocked out the painful memory.  I bought a similar pair after I was married in the late 80's early 90's, but not without ALOT of  resistance.  You see, when I was young, I was ridiculed for my tastes.  Granted, they were due in no small part to my mother's taste, as she had to approve of my clothes, and to my hard to fit little body.  I was, from about 5th grade on, very tall for my age, and very thin, with very NARROW feet.  My father used to tease me by calling them snakes.  I was NOT amused.  Having narrow feet is somewhat easier nowadays, as there is a lot more variety in the choice of narrow shoes.  Back then, well, it was either "old lady" shoes or Hush Puppies.  Some may say those two are the same thing.  I cannot totally disagree.  But I LOVED my Hush Puppies...they were suede nubuck.  It may have not been the style, but I really loved those shoes.  See, I was a nerdy kid.  Some of us are destined by the gods to be popular, and some of us will NEVER fit in.  Now that I'm nearly 50 years old, I have some perspective on that.  I'm not going to dwell on the "exercise" we did in 7th grade where everyone put their name on top of a blank sheet of notebook paper and passed it around for each of the other students to write a one-word description of us (for constructive criticism of course), but let me just say that my sheet showed a lot of "sweet girl" and one distinctive "SQUARE" that I knew from the handwriting was from a friend of mine.  OUCH!!!  Now I realize we each ARE WHO WE ARE, thank God, and embracing it is SO much easier.  Nowdays I am considered "creative" and "one of a kind."  I just go with it.  It's freeing.  

But anyway, I was so fond of those nubuck shoes, but a little ashamed of them too...!!!  Just the way I felt about  my poncho.  That's right, a PONCHO.  I was just looking for knitting projects online and ponchos are COOL!!!!  I made mine myself, after my grandmother taught me to sew in junior high.  It was in a southwestern serape-style fabric.  Even today as an adult, I LOVE Santa Fe.  Must have been onto something then....  But, alas, ponchos weren't really cool... except for the macrame-ed and knitted ones, which I thought looked rather stupid. Hey, BTW, anyone remember pooka shell and macrame-ed necklaces???  I'm showing my age.  Anyway, It was uncool, but I loved that stupid poncho.  And then there was the fake fur.  I remember in about the 6th grade, being so proud of my new acrylic fake fur overcoat with the matching hat with fake fur pompoms dangling down on either side of my fat little head.  It made me so happy to wear that stupid thing.  But it was SOOO uncool.  I'm trying to remember what the cool kids wore.....wool pea coats I think???  Whatever.  But the point of all this reminiscing is to remark on how it still makes me angry today that trends and fads come and go, and what used to be ridiculous is now the pinnacle of fashion, and what was fashionable and you kept wearing long after it was because you actually LIKED the damn thing is OK now. This INEVITABLY will happen for everything.  What  grief I endured  in my tender formative years for things that are now "hot," "cool," "sweet," or whatever they who are the beautiful people are are calling it now!!   Maybe, just maybe...instead of saying "NO WAY IN HELL WILL I WEAR THAT AGAIN! I ENDURED SO MUCH TORTURE FOR THAT!!!,  I just need to let that anger go, and embrace those things which brought a little ray of sunshine into my extremely painful, not to say awkward childhood years.  Incidentally, and maybe we have Bill Gates to thank for this; I'm not quite sure, geeks are hip.  There was a lot of rage at first, that now, among the younger friends of ours, "geekdom" is soooo awesomely cool.  What the....???   I was a geek when it got you beat up on the playground and hit in the head with the DODGEBALL!!  Does anyone play dodgeball any more?  How sadistic was that game....Oh, she's a geek, throw the ball at her!!!???  Those of you poor souls who were fellow geeks will not need further elaboration to understand these musings....as for the rest of you, why don't you try figuring out for yourself what you like....it's a tougher road, but it will make you stronger.....