Love in the Shape of a 12 Lb. Cat

To those who have read “The Christmas Cat” (published here in December of 2013), you will remember our rescued cat, Pepper. Long story short, the Crankee Yankee (my husband) was in Pepperell, MA for a meeting with his model railroad group, which was in an industrial park. The cat who became our Pepper came running to him, climbed up his pantleg and settled himself on the Crankee Yankee’s shoulder–and did not move. It turns out that Pepper had been living on his own in that park for at least two years.

To be honest, Pepper isn’t the prettiest cat you ever saw–he is very long-legged and on the thin side, and he has small patches of fur missing here and there. He has the look of an absent-minded professor who has forgotten to take his clothes to the cleaners. But he has beautiful golden eyes and white whiskers that contrast beautifully against his black face. When pleased, his purr is loud and generous. He is graceful and loves to hop up on shoulders like a tuxedoed parrot.

Of course we adopted him. We had him only for a month or two when we found him lying on his side on the floor, gasping for breath. Our vet took him in immediately and put him on a saline drip and took some X-rays. After some tests, we found that Pepper has hereditary restrictive cardiomyopathy, so he was put on meds right away. A few weeks later, he developed some skin sores that he wouldn’t leave alone; so another trip to the vet. It turns out he also had thyroid issues, so after putting him on food geared to his needs and another med, he was fine.

Just in the past 72 hours, we noticed he was struggling to breathe; his sides were literally heaving. So again, we took him to our vet, who has become Pepper’s champion. The poor thing had so much fluid around his heart that the vet couldn’t even see the heart on an x-ray. He immediately drained off as much as he could; about 12 oz. worth. He recommended we take him to the nearest animal ER for overnight observation.

After a night there, the feline cardiologist checked him out the next day. She put him on blood thinners and added another med, so that now he takes 4 meds in the morning and 3 at night. Pepper is surprisingly graceful about this latest assault on his dignity; as long as the Crankee Yankee mixes the meds into his favorite food, he’s fine.

Pepper’s health issues can’t be fixed, only managed. Worst case scenario, he could potentially get a clot which could incapacitate or kill him. He could also have another buildup of fluid that would necessitate another expensive night again. Funny thing, when faced with the cost of all he went through (nearly $2,000), we both agreed we would do it again if it helped him. We understand all too well that we can lose him at any time, and we also don’t wish to put him through this over again. If keeping him alive means a monthly course of invasive procedures away from his home, then what kind of quality of life is that? What we want for him (and of course our other two cats, Nala and Pookie) is as healthy and happy life as possible, no matter how long or short.

My wonderful step-daughter (the Crankee Yankee’s daughter) said something profound about all this (she faced a similar problem with one of her dogs a few years ago); that Pepper had been on his own and couldn’t live any longer that way. He chose us (well, he actually chose the Crankee Yankee–I just came with the package!). When the Crankee Yankee had some recent health issues involving weeks of radiation, Pepper was his “therapy cat” and stayed close to him and was a great comfort. Now we are repaying the favor.

The meds our Pepper is on now should manage his disease well. He is still recovering and seems to be enjoying the attention. We none of us know how long we will live. All we know is that love is love in whatever form it takes, and that life is life. As a dear (and sadly, late) friend used to say, “Any day on this side of the grass is a good one.”

Ain’t that the truth?



Those Who Serve

On this Memorial Day, let’s all take a minute or two to imagine what America would be like without our freedoms. These freedoms we enjoy and often take for granted were won with blood and tears.

So many of our heroes in the armed forces chose to put themselves directly in harm’s way for the sake of preserving everything we cherish in this country. I am old enough to remember the draft for Vietnam and how frightening it was. Imagine being a young person with your whole life ahead of you–suddenly plucked out everything you know, to have to pack up and go to war in a place you’ve had never heard of.

When September 11 happened, many decided to sign up and go to war. Many were headed for college, or marriage, or the trades, or traveling for their own pleasure–but they chose to put all that on hold and join the service to defend our country. I am well aware that there is much controversy about war in general, especially in the Middle East. But how easy it is to complain and point fingers without putting your very life on the line.

After this latest atrocity to our country, people chose to go fight. Their hearts would not allow them to do otherwise, and they deserve our respect, our gratitude, our love and every help and service this country can provide for them.

As for our veterans, let me say this purely and simply: they deserve every kindness, service, program and benefit we can offer them. Period.

I owe my freedoms to the sacrifice of many. I owe my way of life to the blood of men and women I never met. From the stories told by those who served in my family, I am keenly aware that my freedom didn’t come without a price.

Today, like so many of us, I am going to enjoy a cookout with my family. In all our festivities, I will spare a moment to remember those who have and do serve. I am going to let my dad and my step-daughter (now in the reserves after five deployments) know how much their service means to me.

If there is a special place in Heaven for warriors (and I’m sure there is), I hope they can feel our gratitude, love and appreciation. They deserve it.


My Other Family – The Bedford Boomers

Who are the Bedford Boomers, you may ask? They are a devoted group of model railroad enthusiasts who, along with their spouses and families, make up a unique and special club. This is the organization that the Crankee Yankee (my husband) has belonged to for decades. Together they have traveled by train to many places, have put on many train shows to the delight of thousands of people over the years, and have shared their passion with other model train groups. The Crankee Yankee introduced me to the Bedford Boomers 12 twelve years ago when we got married. Without reservation, they put their collective arms around me and accepted me as one of their own.

Understand, I am not a model train hobbyist, but I love it that my husband is. This is the case with others in the Boomers, and they, like me, support their husbands and the group by doing any number of things; collecting tickets at the door for the shows, sending email schedules out for upcoming events, making sure that we are all aware of any issues with any of the members, and so on. Everyone helps as they can.

The annual picnic usually happens over the Memorial Day weekend, as it did this weekend. Although we have lost members through the years to distance, illness and death, the group still stands as an example of pure joy, acceptance and shared interests. Jokes and pictures are emailed nearly every week, and during the holidays we also get together to share food and laughter, catch up with each other and wish each other well for the coming year.

The Memorial Day picnic is a big event at our house; the Crankee Yankee stuffs our refrigerator with hot dogs, hamburgers, lamb, ribs and so on in preparation for the big day. I usually make a salad or two and cut up a big pan of vegetables to saute on the grill. The Crankee Yankee gets started on location early, and by the time everyone starts showing up, the entire neighborhood smells heavenly. Wonderful dishes appear as people arrive, such as homemade baked beans, macaroni and cheese, fabulous deviled eggs, salads of all kinds, more desserts than you can imagine, as well as mountains of chips and dips, pickles, etc.

Although we all come from different backgrounds, this is a group of people like no other. The unifying interest may be model trains, but we have become an *ohana of sorts. When we lose a member or a relative of a member, we all mourn that loss. When someone in the group has a new baby or grandbaby, it’s cause to celebrate. When someone is sick, we offer what we can do to help, and send on our prayers. As the old saying goes, when sorrow is shared, the pain is cut in half. When joy is shared, that joy is doubled.

These people haveĀ  become very dear to me, and I am proud beyond measure to be part of the Bedford Boomers family. Although we are different, we have so much in common, and have come to appreciate all our differences and similarities. Really, this is what life lived well looks like–diverse people who share one or two interests and who have become friends along the way. I myself am a very minor contributor, but my life is better for being part of the Boomers!

*Ohana is Hawaiian for any group of people who may not be blood-related, but are a self-chosen family.

HPS (Heavy Purse Syndrome)

It seems that, the older I get, the heavier my purse is. Today I watched a sweet young thing bounce out of a store, carrying a cute purse the size of a credit card. I thought, ‘where’s your cell phone? Your glasses? A paperback book in case you get stuck somewhere boring? Your ID and emergency information? Your wallet with all its requisite junk? Your go-to kit (you know; tissues, an extra pair of panties [well, you just never know!], aspirin, breath mints, a few bandaids, antiseptic cream, lipsticks in three shades, toothpicks, a tiny Swiss army knife, matches, dental floss, a pen and notepad, eyebrow pencil and tiny eyebrow brush, hand cream, suntan lotion, a few crystals, hand sanitizer, a little zipbag with raisens and nuts, some moist towelettes, a comb, a small tube of styling gel, a compact umbrella, etc.)?’ Me, I like being prepared for EVERYTHING. But that means a heavy purse.

It wasn’t always this way…back when I could simply roll out of bed and look great, I carried a much smaller purse. It wasn’t necessary for me to even put on makeup (although I did). My now practically non-existent eyebrows were then beautifully arched and splendidly full, so no need to carry an eyebrow pencil. As long as I was clean, had washed my face and brushed my teeth, I was good to go. If I did take a purse with me, it usually just contained a book, some candy, a few dollars, some seashells left over from a trip to the beach, a comb and sunglasses. Mostly I stuffed things in my pockets.

It’s funny that these days I think of stuff that might happen or could happen, hence the HPS. Seriously, I am an urban Navy seal, prepared for anything. Although my family often makes fun of the fact that I carry so much stuff around, who do they depend on when a bandaid, wet wipe, pen, aspirin, or tissue is needed? ME, that’s who! And whenever the Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I go out, he always asks me to stow his big fat wallet, cell phone and keys in my bag.

Now that we have a 3-year old granddaughter, she already knows without anyone telling her that Lulu (my grandma name) always has everything. She knows that there is always room in my purse for her sippy cup, her binkies, and her own little purse (with any number of toys inside it). The kid’s no dummy.

Although I willingly became a pack mule to ensure that I would always have everything I might need to hand, I have to admit that I now understand snails better. After all, they carry their entire living quarters with them wherever they go. And don’t think that I don’t envy that! Believe me, if I could fit a pop-up tent (fully fitted-out, of course) into my purse, I would. Or better yet, if I could become a snail (only if I could design my own shell, of course), I probably would. But since that’s not going to happen any time soon, I will be carrying my big old, heavy old, handy old purse.

Anyone need some hand sanitizer? I’ve got it right here!

Our Fabulous Cheap-o Wedding

The Crankee Yankee and I have been married 12 years this month. It was the second go-round for us both, and neither of us wanted a big to-do of a wedding. We had both had nice first weddings; not elaborate, but certainly fancier than our second wedding. By the time we decided to marry, it was all about wanting to spend our lives with each other, not the wedding trappings. We still talk about what a great day we had and how relaxed and fun it all was. We wanted to marry in my parents’ back yard, which was perfect: a large berm tapers down to a level spot in front of a lovely stone wall with a white wooden trellis in front. On that day, there was a pot of gorgeous white flowers hanging from it, and all the lily of the valley and lilacs (my two favorite flowers) were in full and fragrant bloom.

Back in the 50s when I was growing up, it was common practice for little girls to make a wedding book containing ideas for the wedding dress, flowers, bridesmaids, cake, location, and so on. Some went so far as to perform practice weddings with their Barbie dolls. This never appealed to me; it just seemed, well–boring. I was a tomboy, and liked climbing trees, catching frogs, reading and collecting shells and rocks.

On the weeks leading up to our wedding, Mom and I had a wonderful time buying up mismatched champagne glasses from Goodwill (what a deal–no more than .25 a glass!). For the cake table, we covered a folding table with a white sheet. In the morning of the wedding, we cut bouquets of fresh lilacs for myself and my best friend to carry, and Mom made boutonnieres of lily of the valley for the men. Mom also made the wedding cake; a family favorite–lemon crunch cake. Dad bought a case of champagne, and it flowed liberally throughout the day. The weather was perfect, all guests were seated in chairs on the berm facing the trellis. As an added bonus to a wonderful day, the Crankee Yankee’s younger brother stood up with us as well as my best friend. They began dating shortly afterward, and three years later, they too married!

We look back on that day, and recognize that things happen at the right time. There is no feeling of, ‘oh, if I’d married you first,’ because that would have changed everything. We married our first spouses for good reasons, and although those marriages did not last, they were still important. You have to look back at where you were to understand where you’re going. The time was right for us, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

All in all, including my dress (and excepting the champagne!), our wonderful cheap-o wedding cost about $150. Which just goes to show that, when it comes to weddings, sometimes cheaper is better. And sometimes, the second time around is the best time around.


Shields Up!

It hurts when someone we care about says something mean to us, more so than when a total stranger says it. The hurt feels deeper when it comes from someone we know and trust–despite our best efforts, it’s hard to put a protective wall up to that person. Therefore, when they zing us with a hurtful comment, it’s twice as bad because we just weren’t expecting that from them.

However, we need to remember that any and all mean and snarky comments usually have everything to do with the commenter, not the commentee. It’s a human reaction; we hurt, we lash out. In that moment of zapping someone with a nasty remark, it takes some of the pain away…not for always, but for a little time. When someone is in pain, even a minute or two of relief helps.

Whatever the reason for the unkind zing, we don’t deserve it. Understanding is a good start. Realizing that the hurt hurled at us doesn’t define us also helps. Once we recognize that we are not really the target, but simply the surface at which the comment is thrown, we can let that comment slide off us and not affect us.

So, how do we arm ourselves? Easier than you’d think! Remember good old Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise sounding the red alert alarm? Remember what he said when the ship was being attacked? “Shields up!” That’s the magic formula right there. Put up your *shield when you walk out into the world. Your shield can look any way you’d like, and you can adjust it to have two-way communication. I’ll tell you what mine looks like to give you an idea. My own shield is a beautiful clear rock crystal bubble that allows only good energy in and keeps out all bad energy. I can walk around in it, breathe in it, drive my car in it; I can do anything in it.

When I start my day and leave my home to go out into the world, I imagine I am walking into my beautiful bubble and closing it up behind me. I say to myself, ‘good energy in, bad energy OUT.’ When I’m bombarded with bad energy, I see that bubble and see all that negativity crashing against it so that it never touches me. It’s a great visual and it reminds me again that mean comments do not define me. Let me add here that some comments that may sting may also be meant to help and not hurt. We can add that property to our shields because that is actually good energy; something that will help us on our journey.

Take some time to think about what you’d like your shield to look like. Choose the material, the size, the shape, etc., see it clearly in your head. From then on, when anything negative comes your way, see it sliding right down the side of your shield–it can’t hurt you or even reach you.

We don’t need to let other people’s pain overcome our self-worth. For example, you may have a friend who adores pasta, but it makes her put on weight. When she sees you eating it with no apparent weight gain, it’s easy for her to make a snide comment–she wishes she could enjoy that pasta, but knows she can’t. Her pain is real to her, but it has very little to do with you.

So, starting today, remember the magic words: “SHIELDS UP!”

*The shield concept comes from the classes I’ve taken from the wonderful Noreen McDonald at



Mom, It Was You

Who gave me life and health and strength,

And went to each and every length

To keep me safe and keep me fed,

And at night, who tucked me into bed?


Mom, it was you.


Who made sure I knew right from wrong,

Who realized that, before too long,

I’d need to fight my battles on my own

Without your strength to lean upon?


Mom, it was you.


Who taught me how to curl my hair

And made sure I wore clean underwear–

Who laughed and cried and supported me

Who held and calmed and comforted me?


Mom, it was you.


Who urged me forward to pursue knowledge

And prepared me in every way for college,

Who firmly held me accountable

For all life lessons uncountable?


Mom, it was you.


Who gave me all the tools I needed

To make sure that all my goals succeeded

Who gave shape and order to my days

And clear direction to my own life’s maze?


Mom, it was you.


To Mom, my true north star and my best friend

The bond we share will never end

The love and respect I feel for you

Are always strong and always true.


Mom, it was, and is and ever will be you.





Tattoos – Admire or Ignore?

Personally, I think tattoos are great. I even have one myself; a tiny red heart (the location of which is none of your business; suffice to say it’s in a spot that only my closest friends have seen) to celebrate my divorce in 1999. Some tattoos I’ve see are incredibly artistic, and I especially admire women who have lost their breasts to cancer and choose to beautify the area with artful ink.

I have also seen tattoos that made me think, ‘were you drunk when you had that done?’ or ‘do you still love having the Grateful Dead dancing skeleton permanently on your chest?’ or ‘I wonder what your wife, Monica, thinks of the “Amanda” tattoo on your shoulder?’

Here is my question to folks with tattoos in very visible places; neck, face, arms, chest, hands, etc.: “Are you offended if I stare at your tattoos, or do you accept it as admiration?” Having been raised in the 50s where staring at someone for any reason was deemed rude, my tendency is still to allow myself a quick peek and then pretend I didn’t look. But I have to wonder: ‘If you didn’t want people staring at you, why did you get the tattoos in the first place?’ I certainly don’t wish to be rude, but I can’t always tell if indeed these folks want comments on their body art.

I would be interested in what these folks would say about that. Myself, I’d be too chicken to get a tattoo in a place I couldn’t cover up; what if I decide later in life that I don’t want a blue fairy permanently on my hand? I am an over-thinker by nature, which is why I chose to get such a tiny tattoo in a non-public spot.

Someone told me years ago, when I was considering my one and only tattoo, not to do it. She said, “when you’re old and in a nursing home, do you really want the nurses to see your shriveled-up nasty old tattoo?” My answer? “They’ve probably seen worse!”

Old School Research vs. Google

The other day I was telling a friend about how I’d found out that, in the study of older people, it turns out that taking vitamins (even the really good expensive ones) don’t make a bit of difference in older people’s health. It was interesting to me, and I mentioned it because I thought that she might find it interesting as well. No sooner had my comments left my lips when she whipped out her mobile device and Googled what I just said.

Now really, I understand that research has evolved far beyond my all-nighter research papers I did in college–I used to lugĀ  a bag of books back to my dorm, and go through any number of pens and pads of paper in the research process. Once I culled out what I needed, developed a killer topic sentence, organized the material and made it into a coherent paper, I typed it up on my old faithful typewriter and turned it in the next day. Now all anyone need do is Google. In fact, “Google” seems to have become today’s word for “research.” I have to wonder if people are learning as much from the Internet as they did when researching the old-fashioned way.

This is certainly not a criticism of using Google, but it’s interesting how the aspect of researching information has changed. The very process of finding the references, reading those references (using real books meant that you couldn’t take a break and play Angry Birds for a half hour to relax, either), digesting the information, and then thinking about how to put it into a concise and well-thought-out research paper–all these things lead to understanding and learning. To this day I can tell you facts and history about Charles Dickens, Marie Curie, the Russian poet Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko–all because I had to do a good amount of work to find everything. And I did those papers over 40 years ago!

It seems that the harder we work on something, the more we remember. I certainly don’t count my decades-old research papers as anything of historical value (except to me), but I do remember them. Now that I can Google things, just as soon as I get my answer, I’ve already forgotten it.

Perhaps researching has become a thing of the past. Maybe these days we don’t value the knowing of something as much as we value the finding of something.



Do you feel less than perfect? Do you avoid mirrors? Do you cut the size labels out of your clothes? Avoid stepping on the scale? Think your hair is horrible and your skin is hopeless? Do you self-criticize every word you say? Feel you have nothing to offer the world?

Let’s look at this in a new way. First, there is only ONE of you in this world–that’s it–just the one YOU. That alone makes you unique, special, valuable; a one-of-a-kind edition. Second, hear this and believe it–whatever you think about your appearance, I will guarantee that other people are looking at you with envy. They may wish that they had your hair (yup, that same hair you despair will never look like Jennifer Anniston’s swing-y bob), your eyes (the ones you think are too squinty or too wide-set), your shape, your height, your size, you name it–just about everyone you see is also insecure about how they look.

What if we make a deal with ourselves to NOT hate how we look? What if we decide to celebrate our own unique look? (C’mon now, there’s only one Jennifer A. and she probably gets pea-green with envy about someone else’s look, too!) How about if that deal includes no more self-hatred? No more complaining about size, or color, or shape, or hair, or anything.

Of course, if there is something you want to change about yourself, and will take the steps to do so, hurray for you! That’s your decision, your journey. Do it, love it, BE it. But don’t do it for anyone else but YOU. And that’s if YOU want to do it.

How about each time we think or say something bad about ourselves we stop, breathe and say, “Nope–delete that last statement.” Now come up with a better statement about what you just criticized and say it out loud. Spoken words have great power. Saying something and meaning what you say creates a positive energy that takes on a life of its own.

Instead of saying, “oh, these hips! I look like a pregnant elephant!” instead say, “oh, these sexy hips of mine–watch me swivel!” You get the idea. Anything you’re tempted to say about yourself that’s negative, STOP. Immediately replace it with something positive. You don’t need to announce these things to the world, but DO say them to yourself.

So what happens if you keep doing this? Here’s what: you will hold your head higher, you will walk with grace and confidence, you will move like a warm breeze through crowds of admirers. Your confidence in yourself will tell the world that you are fabulous, a positive force of nature, a rare jewel, a marvelously-made miracle.

Be you; oh, BE you! There isn’t another on the planet like you, so BE YOU!