A writing prompt: You’re a dog or cat. Describe your interaction with a human.

March 10th

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ROAR!

There are things we are not meant to understand. I tell Gracie this, but she continues to wonder, to bother me for answers, yipping in my ears late at night.

For one, I do not know why after we leave that terrible place, the one where they mop at our ears and use the zoom-zoom on our backs, that we can once again see. It’s a semi-annual miracle. I also do not understand why each day, my sight becomes a bit more clouded, my eyes a bit stickier, until the day arrives when I cannot see at all. I must use my nose to get around the house, otherwise I run head first into things.

It is about this time when I find comfort in rubbing my face on the couch. It makes my itchy eyes feel better and for a second: the darkness parts and I get a glimpse of the light and can see! I try not to rub on the couch when Big Lady is home. It makes her angry. She yells about how much she loves the couch and how dirty we are. When she picks me up to tell me not to do that again, I give her the eyes. Then she smiles and laughs and gives me a tiny kiss on the nose.

Sucker. Works every time.

She doesn’t pick up Gracie. My sister’s fat, and she was dropped on her head as a baby, making her both dumb as a rock and hesitant to be lifted. I, however, as the alpha female of the house, am lithe like… Not a cat, exactly. I’d never lower my standards to suggest I’m anything like one of those arrogant, in-the-house-pooping bastards. I mean, how can you feign such royalty and also be trained to shit in a box?

No, I’m lithe like a ballerina. I dance around the house, hopping from cushion to cushion when Big Lady isn’t looking. I jump, sailing through the air, to catch birds in the backyard. I bend gracefully, spreading myself across the warm bricks on the patio to catch a few rays during my afternoon naps.

What? I like cookies.

Gracie? She snores on her back inside on the “dog bed,” moving her little legs like she’s running some sort of race. Trust me, that bitch has never run a race. The only time that one likes to move is to scoop up carrots or “cookies” and pats from the Big Lady.

Can we talk about the cookies for a second? I wish someone would tell Big Lady just to call them what they are: dehydrated apples. We know cookies. We know how to lurk in the corners of the kitchen when actual cookies are being created, how to be on the ready for any morsel that falls to the floor. When our brother Nelson lived here, he used to be able to push the tray of cookies off the counter when Big Lady wasn’t looking, knocking a few on the floor. If we moved fast, we feasted on real, delicious cookies before she got them away from us.

I don’t know where he lives now, but I hope there’s a lot of cookies. And walks. That dummy loved to be led around by his neck through the neighborhood. Me? Not a chance. I’ll pee on the fire hydrant in the yard as any self-respecting alpha does. This is my house, my hydrant, my Big Lady—you canine hayseeds. Pee in my yard all you want. I will cover your scent with my preeminence.

Our wolf ancestors would never be cajoled inside a house, and yet somehow the humans have forgotten we have killer blood. There Big Lady stands, holding open the door, bribing us to come inside with the promise of cookies. Gracie falls for it every time, running as fast as her butt will allow toward yet another dead apple.

I take my time. It’s always nice to remind Big Lady of my reign.

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What We Leave Behind

February 26th

When I was born, my British grandmother, fondly known as Gramma J, was just 45. She was a young mother, as was my mother. By 50, she’d have three grandchildren and one on the way.

Gramma J is still alive in body, but her spirit has long since left this world. She suffered a stroke many years ago and has acute dementia. She lived independently, with the help of an aide, until recently. Gramma J has smoked since she was a teen, and Arizona’s recent record-breaking winter drove her smoking habits indoors. This was problematic for many reasons, namely that as someone with both dementia and a nicotine habit, she could easily burn the house down.

Grandma J turns 72

Her children decided it was time to find her a place in a memory care center where she’d be cared for. Gramma J and her late husband lived in their home for more than 20 years. It was a place where my brother and I loved to spend weekends. We’d play in our Grandfather Leonard’s workshop, chase the neighbor’s farm animals, and raid the pantry for full-size chocolate bars and whatever the Schwan’s man delivered recently.

Their house was decorated when my Gram was at the peak of her accounting career in the early 90s. The off-white leather couch, hutch full of cut crystal figurines, and cocktail carts spoke to their lives as adults with grown children. When we visited, my mom used to warn us not to touch anything. We didn’t want to be inside anyway.

Two weeks ago, my mom came to Arizona to both see my grandmother, and to empty her home of its belongings. We went through closets of clothing she hadn’t worn in decades. There were polyester suits, silk scarves, and heels, a stark contrast to the comfortable cotton sweatpants and slippers she lives in today. Leonard’s workshop sat dusty and empty, with a stack of wood still piled in the corner. Every inch and tchotchke reminded me of her, down to the Union Jack magnet on the fridge.

There is so much to say about going through her home and having to decide what to keep, sell, donate, or give away to neighbors. My mother wanted items she’d made for her mother — calico quilts faded from heavy use, and oil paintings she’d done in high school that still hung on the walls.

Eventually an estate company and a dumpster company were called to manage the minutiae that we didn’t know what to do with. Would someone want her towels? Surprisingly, yes. And the pantry full of old Corningware–dishes she’d used to serve us English peas, her favorite, for years? They’d sell too.

I knew what I wanted. It was the same thing I wanted when my Grandmother Maxine similarly developed Alzheimer’s and went into a care facility. Stubbornly, foolishly, and with all my heart, I wanted my grandmother back.

With Gramma J, I want to be 8 years old again, driving around in her pink 1976 Thunderbird to Tower Plaza before she married Leonard. We’d spend these weekends like two single gals out on the town. She’d let me stay up and watch whatever I wanted on TV while we ate pizza. For being a woman who never weighed more than 100 pounds, she always had the best ice cream in her freezer.

I want to go to Target with her on my birthday, when she’d let me load the cart with new school clothes and always sign our cards, “xoxo, Gramma.”  I want her to take us swimming at one of the apartments she lived in before marrying Leonard. She’d sit on the deck, her capris pulled up to dip her toes, and we’d splash and scream until our eyes burned from the chlorine and her cigarette smoke.

While I’ll remember her for happy memories, when Gramma J was fully here, she was a complicated, stubborn, and generous woman. What she was incapable of giving to her children, she tried to make up for with my brother and me. It often left my mom scratching her head to see her emotionally constipated mum telling us how much she loved us.

Gramma’s mom abandoned her three children and husband when my grandmother was in elementary school. Her father, my great-grandfather, struggled. This single act profoundly influenced my grandmother’s life. I think Gramma lived worried that unexpectedly she’d wake up one morning and her children would be gone, just like her mother. Why she was able to put this worry aside when it came to loving her grandchildren decades later, I’ll never know. These are the things you don’t see as a kid, but come into ugly focus when you look back with adult understanding.

When we pulled away from her house for the last time, the car was loaded with the quilts and paintings. My mom cried quietly in the passenger seat. I took a spoon from Gramma’s collection, a bottle of tequila from the cocktail cart, and the Union Jack magnet.

What I am actually taking away from my grandmother’s life is this: our decisions influence generations. Our selfishness, kindness, or generosity may change the lives of those we’ll never meet.

Hold your children’s hands and tell them how much you really love them.

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The Balance

January 3rd

Driving into work this morning, I thought about how the happiness and satisfaction of relationships depends on balance. Imaging each person on a seesaw, the best relationships work when the emotion desired in the center is actually centered.

He doesn’t love you more than you love him, for example. When the love sits in the center, balanced, you are both working to put the other person first. No one is selfish. No one is a martyr.

For other relationships, this center point is time. I have several where I want more time than the other person is willing to give. I want more attention. I’m on my end of the seesaw, flailing, waving my arms, asking for more. The other person is swinging along through life busy with their own thoughts and obligations.

The contrary is also true. Everyone has had the relationship (be it family or friend) where the person wants more than you can give. It may be time or attention or even pity.

The dramatic friend. The friend who always thinks the world is ending. The friend who needs you to babysit her kids so she can go to a party you aren’t invited to. No thanks.

The best friendships are those where you both go through life on your end of things and when do you have time for each other, everything slides into place naturally. There is no grief or guilt for not having spoken sooner. You’re too happy to be together now.

This year, I’m interested in two points of personal growth: being more disciplined and present. I am guilty of not listening to my husband when he is telling me about his day. I’ve spent all day waiting to get back to him, and yet too often I find myself playing on my phone when he is finally standing in front of me, waving his hands for attention. (Metaphorically, of course. My husband is the least needy person I’ve ever met.)

To 2019 and finding better balance.

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2019
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Love is a game of tag

October 10th

 

August

Yesterday, unexpectedly, I had to put Nelson down. He’d been sick for a while with an uncommon autoimmune disease. Sunday, he was chasing me around the house trying to eat the tortilla chips off my plate, in his normal, annoying way. Monday as I left for work, I gave him a treat and kissed him goodbye—all the while thinking we had years before us. When I returned late afternoon, he couldn’t stand.

That quickly, life had changed forever.

I spent Monday night with him on his bed, spoon-feeding him water. He could no longer lift his head and was having a hard time breathing. This dog, who the week before was still going on walks, and the day before was begging me for baby carrots in front of the fridge.

You get to a place like this and language fails you. Bereft? Distraught? Completely lost? What I felt was failure, and like my heart was going to stop beating. I knew he was in serious trouble and pain.

Oh, sweet Jesus, the pain. I could see it on his face and it made every bit of me hurt. I scooped him into my arms and took him to the vet as soon as they opened Tuesday morning. Our long-time vet, and a childhood friend of mine, took one look at Nelson and knew. He didn’t want to tell me that it was Nelson’s time. He had tears in his eyes as I openly sobbed in the exam room. The options were few and only one would bring Nelson less pain.

How could this be happening?

Too soon, I was sitting on the floor, cradling him. He looked into my eyes and I told him how much I loved him, how much he would be missed. Stroking his face, I tried to stay as calm as I could.

And then, he was gone.

I held him to my chest and wailed.

I don’t have well crafted word to express how terrible I feel, or to describe the loss. Nelson was in so many ways my child. The moment I met him, I knew we were family. He gave me more than 7 years of love and companionship. This morning, I came downstairs for the first time to see his bed empty. Right now, the house feels haunted. I keep expecting to hear the tick of his nails on the floor, to hear the soft grunt that meant “please lift me on the couch,” or the “meep!” noise he made when he was happy to see me. I am profoundly sad.

His passing has made me see that love is a game of tag. I loved him because I have been well loved. He loved me in return, and this made me more loving. I hope I’ve passed that on to others, and I know his presence—his long eyelashes, and curious personality—gave others joy.

 

Halloweenies 2012

Nelson: year 1

December 1, 2011

Halloween 2011

Thank you Willie Nelson Mandela for being the best friend I could have ever asked for. I will love you always.

Adopted: 7/22/2011

Passed: 10/9/2018

-K

 

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Nelson
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Waiting Room

September 18th

Southern Arizona Honeymoon

 

I’ve written a bit about our attempts at trying to have a baby. Status update: no luck yet.

There is something profoundly lonely about infertility. Granted, there is the waiting room at the clinic, full of other hopeful souls. There are the online chat groups, which use acronyms I’ll never master. And of course, there is the trove of advice and love from friends and family. At times there is so much of this last category that one piece of wisdom cancels out the next.

Chart everything. Stand on your head!

Forget you’re trying. Go on vacation. 

Don’t eat gluten! 

Eat everything you want. (More my speed.)

Stay positive!

Let yourself feel what you feel. 

Kids are the best!

Do you want one of mine? 

And God bless the one friend and mother of three who said in all seriousness, “Don’t stop drinking. I didn’t stop drinking until I found out I was pregnant and look!” pointing to a bubbly, happy 3-year-old, “She’s fine!”

The side effects of fertility medications are no joke. To push my body to create a child, I am taking a medication that makes me deeply, miserably depressed. It is a common side effect, yet not one mentioned by my doctor or the pharmacist.  I woke up one day and didn’t want to shower, go to work, eat—I knew something was not right. The other cruel aspect of this process is that signs of early pregnancy are easily confused for signs of menstruation. You think you’re pregnant one moment and you are most definitely not the next.

There is nothing more maddening than realizing what you thought was a child was actually just your imagination. And in that moment, rather than having a good cry, you have to immediately phone the doctor because menstruation starts the clock. Again. You’re now “day 1” and things start all over on “day 3.” You’ve got about 48 hours to mourn and beat yourself up for being so optimistic before you start all over with the drugs that make you feel like you’re pulling your (heavy, mean, emotional) shadow around with you everywhere you go.

But don’t forget to be happy! Be optimistic! Maybe it’s your attitude? 

I’m struggling. I’m writing this because I want to remember this time of life. If it works, I’ll look back and think, “We did this. We pushed forward.” And if it doesn’t, I hope with time, I’ll look back on these words and see that we did everything we could. The money, the time, the countless doctor’s visits. The barrage of strangers who poked and prodded me like a science experiment.

I’d say none of this has been easy, but that isn’t true. My husband has been nothing but wonderful and kind in just the right dose. He knows when to come home with flowers and when to leave me alone. I’ve never been more thankful that he’s my partner.

~K

 

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Journal
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Simple Newborn Beanie

September 2nd

Simple Newborn Hat

Simple Newborn Hat

Simple Newborn Hat

Materials:
0.5 to 1 oz (40 to 80 yards) of DK weight baby yarn – scrap sock yarn works great.
Size 5 (3.75 mm) circular needle, set of size 5 (3.75 mm) double pointed needles, yarn needle, stitch marker

Abbreviations:
k = knit  p= purl
k2tog = knit two together

Pattern:
Cast on 72. Join to knit in the round. Place stitch marker at the beginning of the round. K2, p2 repeated across round until the hat measures 1-2 inches.

Crown:
Rnd 1-3: k
Rnd 4: k5, (k2tog, k10) five times, k2tog, k5 – 60 stitches
Rnd 5-20: knit – or however many rounds it takes for hat to be 4.5-5” tall from cast on.

Decrease:

Rnd 21: K8, k2tog entire round

Rnd 22: K

Rnd 23: K7, k2tog entire round

Rnd 24: K

Rnd 25: K6, k2tog entire round

Rnd 26: K

Rnd 27: K5, k2tog entire round

Rnd 28: K

Rnd 29: K4, k2tog entire round

Rnd 30: K

Rnd 31: K3, k2tog entire round

Rnd 32: K

Rnd 33: K2, k2tog entire round

Rnd 32: K

Rnd 33: K1, k2tog entire round

Cut 8” tail. Using a yarn needle, put remaining stitches on tail. Pull tight. Weave in ends.

Give colorful hats to friends expecting babies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Domestic Art, Knit
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Master Bedroom Update

July 16th

This took several months, but boy are we glad it is done. When Jason moved into this home, we knew the master bedroom would need some help. The woman who lived here before was obsessed with greek themes. (You may remember the column in the bathroom.) Hence the drapey olive green curtains, lots of wallpaper, and the throne.

A throne.

Master bedroom update: I mean, seriously. Look at that throne.

Master bedroom update

So, we took it all down and started with some fresh paint, including bright green beneath the chair rail. Any by “we,” I mean Jason. I picked out the colors and helped remove a bit of the wallpaper, but he did the vast majority of the work. Although, I did give the carpet a quick clean using the vacuum we found online at Bissell which was very easy to use.

After:

Master bedroom update: I do not miss the throne.

Master bedroom update: new art. These are the lyrics from our wedding song

We bought some blue drapes to replace the others, and I splurged on a piece of art from House of Belonging. Those lyrics are from Hillsong’s “Ocean,” which is our wedding song. Decorating a master bedroom is always hard work, but if you want to give it a try, there are a lot of places you can check out, for example, if you’re looking for a place to get the best mattress, there are websites for you to check out.

Before:

Master bedroom update

After:

Master bedroom update

I love the crazy mix of colors, the homemade quilt from my mom on the bed and on Nelson’s bed, and how happy this room is now. We are sleeping better with the heavier curtains, and we managed to clean up some clutter in the process. It was a simple update, but one much needed.

I love our home!

~K

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Heirloom Hacienda, Homebody
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The Productivity Trap

July 12th

I’ve been struggling a bit lately. This isn’t uncommon for me this time of year. We’re mid-July and really only starting our summer season. The weather’s already climbed over 110, and this shifts life. To be outside, where I’d rather be, you’ve got to get up before the sun.

None of this is new. You’d think after nearly 40 years of living in one place, I’d be adjusted. But no, as the temperatures rise and the days grow longer, I feel a heavy weight of seasonal depression wrap itself around me like a hungry snake.

Further, I’ve noticed a source of my sadness is that I’m not spending all the time doing all the hobbies. Pieces of a quilt waiting to be sewn are scattered on the dining room table. My knitting is on the couch, where it rests in a colorful heap waiting for me to have a moment at the end of the day. The tomato leaves have browned and curled in upon themselves, frustrated that my lack of time and love has left the garden looking rather apocalyptic.

I lived for so long alone, close to work. I had nearly every moment, outside of the 40 hours a week I was at a desk, to play. Today, in lieu of having a new recipe or quirky story to post on the blog, I’ve got a happy husband and three dogs on a leash pulling me around the block before I race across town to work.

I’ve hitched my happiness for too long on how much I could get done. How many crafts can I make? How many neighbors can I feed? How many XYZ can I do and write about and show the world that I’m busy and productive?

What a trap. In retrospect, this behavior is boastful smoke and mirrors. If you can’t be happy sitting still, are you really at peace?

Mindfully, I’m adjusting to this new schedule and trying instead to find moments of happiness in the routine. The way the dogs greet me at the door after a long day at work. The magic of an Instapot recipe that puts dinner on the table with minimal effort. The basil that grows under our Ficus tree and soldiers on regardless of the heat. The tiny bag of sock knitting I keep in my purse for conference calls at work, because the methodical movement is soothing and helps me focus on whatever I’m listening to on the phone.

This is where I am today, friends. No great photos to post. No funny conclusion to the story. Putting one foot in front of the other and pushing through another summer in the desert.

~K

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Arizona
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What a week

May 26th

PBS!

 

This week has been a whirlwind. On Tuesday, we hosted the neighborhood bookclub. This likely doesn’t sound like much, but it took a considerable effort to have 20 people over for dinner after a work day. That said, everyone sat shoulder to shoulder in our living room, holding tiny plates of shrimp and sandwiches. There was quite a bit of feedback on “Counting Coup,” which was both wonderful and always awkward to sit through.

It’s hard to hear critique of something you love without being defensive and a jerk in response. I’m learning. I’m trying. I’m far from perfect. (And neither is my writing.)

PBS!

On Thursday, I was interviewed on the local PBS station about “Counting Coup” and it went well. It was terrifying at first, but quickly became fun. The host, Ted Simons, was a doll. Personable, kind, and generous. I hope I get to be a guest again.

As far as writing goes, this has been the best week yet. Thank you for your constant support!

 

~K

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Arizona, Writing
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In the Trenches

April 22nd

Garden update

 

Lately, I’ve been spending time with the homeless, and those on the edge of homelessness. I’ve also been spending a lot of time at public forums and community events discussing substance use services available in our community.

None of this is terribly interesting. However, this week, while standing outside eating hot dogs and drinking black coffee with a group of homeless people at a health fair, I saw the situation differently. There were likely 100 volunteers at this event. Many of us work in health care in one form or another. There was also a large group of LDS missionaries, volunteers from the evangelical church where the event took place, and retirees.

Those who came to the event for help, including several large African refugee families, were paired with a volunteer. They walked with their volunteer through the varying stations to seek the services they needed. There was HIV testing, a shower station, a clothing room, a barber and even a veterinary station for those with pets. The largest lines were at the Social Security and Motor Vehicle lines to replace lost identification cards.

For hours, I watched volunteers and their paired family or homeless individual meander through the maze of services. The volunteer would start with a map, and several hours later would often walk by holding a huge bag of clothing and fistful of papers. One of the African women, with a roly poly infant tied to her back, elegantly wrapped her family’s bundle in a brightly patterned west African wax fabric that matched her long skirt and placed it on the crown of her head. She couldn’t have been five feet tall, but she cut quite the presence walking through the event.

There is a space between the homeless and the volunteer. In that space—or trench—rests the ashes of days past. For many of the homeless folks we spoke to, this included mental illness and substance use. What I would have guess also rested there nested among their current health struggles was a childhood plagued with unkindness. Physical and sexual abuse. Divorce. Poverty and the corresponding hunger that can prevent a child from ever being able to catch up developmentally with his or her peers.

Painting with a broad brush, on one side of this conversation stood a volunteer who likely had enough education and privilege, his job allowed him to take the day to be at the event, or enough paid time off to do so. On the other side, stood a man whose dentures and wallet were stolen. He wore new-to-him clothing, and was freshly showered after his haircut. The man, whose face was creased with the heavy wrinkles of a person who lives outside, tried explaining to his volunteer and to us how difficult it is to maneuver the Medicaid system in Arizona for dental benefits, and how difficult it is to live without teeth. He keeps choking when trying to eat.

We were able to get him a replacement ID card for his health services, but he didn’t qualify for the small dental service we could offer him. Frustrated, but grateful for our efforts, he scrunched his brow and went to the next station. His volunteer just nodded to us and followed behind.

We spend all of our time and efforts as a culture and nation pulling at weeds that won’t stop growing, rather than thinking about how to plant new seed.

If we want to make significant positive change in substance use, homeless, domestic violence, poverty, etc., we have to take better care of our kids. We have to reform the foster care system so no child is ever abused once already suffering the loss (temporary or permanent) from his/her birth parents. We have to spend more time feeding hungry people and loving those who need our compassion, not our judgment.

 

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Public Health
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