Cats Are NOT Second Class Citizens

The Crankee Yankee and I once adopted a stray cat who had been on the streets for a long time. He had half-healed cuts on his chest and neck, and was pretty thin. We immediately took him to our vet, who checked him all over, attended to the cuts, gave him his shots and microchipped him. This was our Pepper (to see more about Pepper, see my older posts “The Christmas Cat,” and “Love in the Shape of a 12-lb. Cat”), and we had him for nine and a half months.

Pepper had an incurable hereditary heart condition, which meant lots of special meds and no more going outside. Twice we had to rush him to the animal emergency room as fluid built up so much that his heart was threatened. After treatment, he was fine. We knew that his condition would eventually kill him, but while we had him, he was well-cared for and was loved deeply. He made friends with our two cats, Nala and Pookie, and even began to play, which was hilarious–he had very long legs, and he looked like a giraffe playing soccer. He had an endearing habit of perching on your shoulder like a parrot, his purr loud and happy in your ear.

Coincidently, at the time the Crankee Yankee found Pepper, he was about to have radiation therapy for prostate cancer. While he went through it as gracefully as he could, it took a lot out of him, and he needed to rest frequently. During those days, Pepper stayed close to him and napped with him. At night, he slept on the Crankee Yankee’s pillow, right above his head. It was just as though Pepper had been called to him to comfort him through radiation.

Once the therapy was finished, Pepper still stayed close, and was a warm and constant presence. The Crankee Yankee always said that he was his own “therapy cat.” Unfortunately, Pepper’s disease progressed, and the time came when he stopped eating, and we knew he was in pain. It broke our hearts take him to our vet and have him put to sleep. We felt we had done the best we could for him, and were glad we had been able to give him a good life while we had him.

In time, the Crankee Yankee happened to meet the people who’d owned him, and asked why the cat was on the street for so long. They said that he seemed to want to be out all the time, and he stayed out more and more. One day they didn’t see him, and months went by without him returning.

Now, I ask you–if you have a cat that likes to be outdoors, why in the world would you not care where he is? Or put a collar on him with an address and phone number on it? Or just care enough to put up a sign and a picture to find him? As they told the Crankee Yankee, they “wondered” where he went.

The Crankee Yankee is not very tolerant of people who are lax about their animal’s care, but he held it together and told the past owners Pepper’s story. They did fill in one blank for us, that Pepper’s actual name was “Sprocket,” and that he was about 12 years old.

When we relayed all this to our vet, who, by the way, adores cats–he said that too often people regard cats as “second class citizens.” I have always wondered why there is no law to register cats as you would a dog–why is that?

Just think; because the Crankee Yankee was there at the right time and place, he rescued a wonderful cat who in turn comforted him through radiation therapy. They both helped each other, and that cat was no second class citizen–he was our hero.




List the Issues–Every Single One, and LIVE

Anyone who has had a death in the family probably goes through similar cycles, moods, ups, downs, and questioning if they did enough to help. Emotions are jumbled, things hit you from left field, you find yourself crying during a soup ad on TV, or laughing hysterically at something that wasn’t remotely funny. You are up, down and sideways. I have often wanted to distance myself from my own head and walk around for a few days without it. It would be a relief, but these whirling thoughts are–you guessed it–all part of the process of grieving a life, rejoicing over that life, then letting the pain of that loss go.

Writing gives structure to my thoughts, and just as I list my “to dos” each day, I made a list of what exactly has been bugging me. I did this because I recently got so down, so negative, so lost in my own head that I wanted to just disappear. I wanted to round up all these painful and scary thoughts, push them into a burlap sack and bury them so deep that they would never bother me again.

But that isn’t possible, and it isn’t smart even if it were possible. So I made myself a list of all those whirling thoughts just so I could finally confront them. I didn’t leave a thing out, and guess what? The list wasn’t anywhere near as long as I thought it would be. We can’t expect that going through an experience like this is easy, but it is part of life, and moreover, part of what we need to learn as human beings.

I would far rather live and love fully, joyously, gladly, happily, and at some point face the loss of people I love with all my heart. That pain we feel is not permanent, nor is it meant to be. We have the comfort of knowing and remembering all those wonderful seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years of basking in all that love. And it’s worth it; so much so that we find that we can live through that pain and survive.

My amazing 91-year old dad said something the other day that was exquisitely profound and truthful. He said, “you know, if it had been me who died first, your mother would have mourned, but she would have gone on doing the things she loved. She would go to her book club, have coffee at the bookstore with her friends, play endless rounds of Scrabble, attend her PEO meetings, go out for lunch, go on trips and laugh and enjoy life. In short, she would LIVE. And that’s what I’m going to do; I’m going to LIVE.”

And that’s what I’m going to do as well.

Cold Prevention and a Few Other Nifty Tips

Cold Prevention:

I know I’ve posted this before, but I have kept colds at bay for years with this simple infusion:

  • 5 drops each lemon, peppermint, tea tree and oregano oils into a mug of boiling water. Inhale through your nose three times, then inhale through your mouth three times. WARNING: close your eyes; the steam will make your eyes water. Also, breathe carefully or you will start coughing; it’s pretty powerful. Repeat every hour or two, or when you think of it. The infusion is good for 24 hours. Additionally, taking elderberry zinc lozenges also help to stop colds before they start. At the first sign of a scratchy throat, try both of these to help avoid a cold.

Some Cleaning Tips:

  • White vinegar is a cheap and effective way to clean the nasties out of microwaves. Fill a small bowl with white vinegar, and put it in the microwave for 5 – 10 minutes. The steam will loosen the dried on gunk and makes it easy to clean it off with a sponge. You can also use white vinegar and baking soda as a “sweetener” for stinky kitchen drains: dump a 1/2 cup of baking soda down the sink, then follow with a big splash of white vinegar. You’ll get a mini-volcanic eruption that’s fun to watch and freshens the drain.

How to make your own laundry soap (each ingredient can be found in your local supermarket):

  • 1/3 bar Fels Naptha soap
  • 1/2 cup washing soda
  • 1/2 cup borax powder
  • 2 gallon bucket

Grate the soap and put it in a large pot (if you own a lobster pot, that’s just about the size you’ll need). Add six cups of water and heat until the soap melts. Add the washing soda and the borax and stir until it’s dissolved. Removed from heat. Pour four cups of hot water into the 2 gallon bucket. Now add the soap mixture and stir. Now add one gallon plus six cups of water into the bucket and stir. Let the soap sit for about 24 hours and it will gel. Use 1/2 cup per load of laundry; it will cost you about a penny a load.

NOTE: The finished soap will not be a solid gel; it will be more of a watery gel that looks sort of like egg noodle soup. Also, the soap is a low-sudsing soap, so if you don’t see actual suds, that’s ok. Suds are NOT what does the cleaning; it’s the ingredients. We have used this for years, and it does a great job. Not only that, but sheets and towels washed in this mix come out fluffy and soft in the dryer.

Easy-Peasy Chicken Broth

The next time you either roast a chicken or buy one already cooked, it’s easy to make a good chicken broth. This broth can be enjoyed by itself or you can add chopped chicken, vegetables, rice or pasta to it for a heartier soup. Here’s how:

  • Strip the meat off the carcass (leave some meat on the bones), and set it aside. Chop it up if you want to add it to the finished soup.
  • Put the carcass into a large pot, and add enough water to just cover it.
  • Add an onion cut in half (skin and all), some garlic cloves (also cut in half with skins on), a couple of carrots cut in half, a few stalks of celery, some black peppercorns, and a generous pinch of salt. Add a few shakes of seasonings: paprika, parsley, thyme, and, if you like the taste; curry powder.

Let it cook (medium heat) down until the carcass is about 2-3″ above the water. Strain this mixture into a new pot, and throw out the bones, vegetables, etc. (I do NOT recommend using the chicken from this mix; it will be pretty played-out and tasteless at this point.) What’s left over is a wonderful chicken broth. Pour it off into a container (a glass bottle is what I use), let it cool, then refrigerate. If it gels after being in the refrigerator, you’ve made a great broth.

You can freeze the broth if you like and use it as is, or add in chopped chicken, onions, carrots, celery, etc. I’ve also added a can of corn and some cilantro to give it a Southwestern taste.

Good luck and have fun!


What I Learned From Being a Waitress

During the summer when I was in high school, I was a waitress in the town’s most popular burger and ice cream restaurant. It was a terrific place to work, and I learned far more there than how to fold napkins, serve food efficiently, politely deal with all sorts of people; most of all, I learned how to be professional. The husband and wife who ran the restaurant trained me well, and I have carried the principles they taught me throughout my working life, such as:

  • Never let anyone see you NOT working.
  • Remember what it is you do to earn your paycheck.
  • Smile and be polite to everyone.
  • Don’t complain. Either fix the issue or live with it.
  • Even if the boss is a jerk, the boss is still the boss.

What I learned specifically about waitressing:

  • Always ask if the customers would like one check or separate checks right at the beginning.
  • Write down EXACTLY what each person wants.
  • Check the table a few minutes after everyone has starting eating. Ask first if everything is satisfactory, then ask if anyone needs anything. If they do, go get it, STAT.
  • When you see people sitting with their hands in their laps or their napkins in their plates, it’s a sign that they are finished eating. If someone, even one person, is still eating, wait until they are finished to come by and ask to clear and/or take a *dessert order.
  • Once the table has been cleared, desserts delivered and eaten, bring the check (or checks), smile and thank them sincerely for coming, that it was a pleasure to serve them,  and that you hope that they will return soon.

Please bear in mind that, no matter how thoughtful, caring and considerate your service is, people are going to tip you well, badly or not at all. This is annoying, but it really is out of your control. Do not gripe (out loud) about it.

Things you should NEVER say to your diners:

  • “But you TOLD me that you wanted your burger well done!” Even if he did and you served him his requisite charred burger, don’t argue. Apologize, then ask politely what he wants and how he wants it and get it out pronto. Trust me, someone in his party will tell him he is being a girnormous knob and tell him he was an absolute tool to the waitress. You might get a big sympathy tip from someone else at his table, too.
  • “No problem.” DO NOT SAY THIS, EVER. It has become the usual response to “thank you.” The correct reply is always “you’re welcome.” Whenever I am told “no problem,” I grit my teeth before I can blurt out “it’s ‘YOU’RE WELCOME,’ YOU TROLL!”
  • “You want peanut butter for your baked potato?!?!” Yup, this actually happened to me. I remember wanting to hit the guy who ordered this in the head and ask where he learned such a barbaric food combo, but, thanks to my training, I smiled at him and said I would be happy to bring him a side of peanut butter for his baked potato. Ours is not to question why.
  • “I gave you good service, and you only left me a 5% tip.” You may have done everything for them including clipping their toenails, but what they choose to tip you is up to them, not you. Sad but true.
  • “Whatever!” PLEASE do not say this to your diners. Just smile and walk away. “Whatever” implies that you really don’t give a hoot about them. You may not, but don’t show it by saying “whatever.”

Back when I was waitressing, the rule for greeting customers was addressing them by their names if you knew them, or if you didn’t, simply “folks.” Back then it was considered rude to address diners as “you guys” or, if the diners were older people, “sweetie,” “sweetheart,” “honey,” “hun,” and so on. To do so was considered disrespectful. But times have changed, so it seems that doesn’t apply anymore.

Personally, I don’t like being called “you guys,” “sweetie,” “sweetheart,” “honey,” but I didn’t mind at all when I lived in the South and was routinely called “darlin’.” Funny, huh? But the “sweetie,” “sweetheart,” “honey” just makes me feel old, and it makes me want to tip a lot less. I don’t, of course–but I want to.

Anyway, I learned that you pretty much get back what you give, although sometimes you get griped at for no good reason you can see. If so, please remember that in that case, it’s completely their issue and not yours–just as long as you were considerate and patient with them. One of the hardest things I had to learn was that you can be as nice as you possibly can be, helpful, fast, efficient–and you still can get screwed on your tip or get barked at for no good reason. Again, try to remember that the diner may be having an awful day. It’s just one of the many things you’ll just have to let go. Don’t let it eat you up. No pun intended.

*The place at which I worked during high school summers had fabulous homemade ice cream and sauces; fudge, butterscotch, marshmallow, penuche, and, for some odd reason; pineapple mint. This was an ungodly combination of mashed pineapple and mint flavoring. It was always on the counter and looked like pineapple in mold sauce, and tasted like pineapple-flavored toothpaste. The one and only time I went “off the reservation” as a waitress was when a diner asked pineapple mint over vanilla ice cream. I said without thinking twice, “Please don’t order that; it’s terrible. I recommend the fudge sauce.”


Retired? I’m Not Sure…

I guess I’m retired. I didn’t plan to be retired this soon, but the last job I had dried up after nearly three years. I had hoped it would last until I felt I wanted to retire, but it didn’t. I could get another job I suppose, but after living nearly five months without one, I’m not so sure I want to.

This made me think about work in general. Why do we work? We work because we need money for all those things we need like food, clothing, shelter, transportation, education, supporting a family, and the occasional vacation or hobby, etc. Sometimes we work doing things we love, and that’s magical. Sometimes we work because we just need the money. Sometimes we work because we need to be busy, help others, make the world a better place, rescue animals, bring clean water to third world countries, and so on.

When you no longer work, does that mean that you are no longer useful? I don’t believe that for a second. I am starting to think that, when you no longer work, you finally have the time to discover what it is you really want to do. And it could be something for which you don’t even get paid–in money, anyway.

Having these months has been a godsend. I was able to help my dad care for my mom while she was home under Hospice care. I could stay overnight, pick up prescriptions, help clean the house, cook, and so on. But now that Mom has passed on, I’m coming to look at this time as a space to think of what I want to do, and what my purpose is at this time of my life.

How little I understood about work when I was in my 20s, 30s, 40s and even 50s! Work doesn’t make the person; what the person does makes the person. If I have learned anything from my mother’s example, it is that we are here to reach out to others, to stumble and fall and get up again; to help make peace and harmony around us, to pull in those people dear to us, to help where we can, to be kind, to give what we can (and not beat ourselves up for when we can’t), to live fully, breathe deeply, love honestly, and try our best to be our better selves. Also, I learned from my dad that not only can you really love your work, but that many people will benefit from that love.

There are some people and some jobs we must leave because they are not healthy for us. There are some paths we must not take. The hard thing is to figure out which paths to follow. Sometimes you have to just throw yourself into something and take the chance that you may fail–but you may also succeed.

That said, I’m not sure where this particular journey will take me. But I do know that, for the first time in my life, I may be “working” in a way I never have before. The work will be of my choosing; not for the money or position, but because I need to do it and it needs to be done. I believe that often our “real” work gets off the ground once we let go of the “shoulds:” “I should do this, I should do that,” especially when those shoulds do not bring us joy.

So, I  guess maybe I may not be retired after all. It’s going to be fun to see what happens next….stay tuned!

I Went to a Party Last Night…..

It has been a long while since I’ve been to a big party. The Crankee Yankee and I, plus two old friends of ours headed down to MA last night to join our model railroad club for a post-holiday party. The host and hostess always let us party in their beautiful home, and we always feel at home there. There were a lot of people I did know, and several I didn’t know. I did my usual party routine; I poured myself a glass of wine and parked myself in a corner.

Then I thought of my mother, who always went out of her way to make people feel comfortable. She had a knack for gently pulling a shy person into a crowd, introducing them and staying there until the shy person felt more at home. So I took a deep breath and a long sip of pinot, and walked out of my corner.

I introduced myself to a few people, and asked them about themselves, what connection they had with our hosts, what their interests were, and so on. I met a lovely woman who is owned by three cats and one little dog, and we shared stories about our animals and how they get along with each other. We talked about effective ways to clean pee stains out of rugs, and how to get a long-haired cat used to being brushed.

After I filled a plate, I sat down by the fire with four people I didn’t know, and one I did know. It took us exactly three seconds to get to know each other and then start sharing stories. I got to know a lovely woman who is a fellow reader and gardener, and also her husband, who was an investment broker in New York City for years. I asked him what that was like, and he rolled his eyes and smiled. He told me that, once you get past the hustle-bustle and rat raciness of it all, you get to know people.

He went on to say that what he learned from this was that it is people who matter, not their money or fame. He found that when he let go of anger, frustration and trying to beat the clock, he found peace of mind. If someone in traffic was right on his bumper, he let them go ahead of him. If someone pushed in front of him to grab a newspaper, he stood back and let them go with a smile. He made decisions all during his day to be kind, forgiving, and most of all, HAPPY. He said that his attitude greatly affected his life and health; he felt better about himself and the world around him. Even his blood pressure came way down. In short, he found peace within.

As all of us in that group were pretty much from the same generation, we laughed our heads off about the original Saturday Night Live gang, old movies and TV shows, favorite actors and so on. It was a wonderful night, and I realized that I hadn’t had that much fun in a long time.

Once home, I sat up for a while, thinking about the evening and how it changed me. I realized three major things from this party:

  • I can choose happiness
  • I can reach out to others, and it’s ok if we do or don’t connect
  • It’s ok for me to have a good time

So last night was much more than a party to me; it was life-changing and life-affirming. Sure, I lost my beloved mother last month; it was devastating. But she of all people would be the first to advocate partying, singing, dancing, telling bad jokes and laughing. When she was really tickled about something, she would throw back her head, cross her legs (probably to keep from peeing) and flap one hand over her heart and howl with laughter.

Now THAT’S an image I can keep in my head forever. 🙂

More Truth About Massage

For Christmas, one of the Crankee Yankee’s gifts was not one, but TWO gift certificates for a relaxing massage! I “spent” one just the other day, and I feel renewed, refreshed, regenerated and rejuvenated.

Many people have the wrong ideas about massage; some still view it as something that “non-celebrity people” just don’t do. Others feel that massage therapists only want to work on “perfect” bodies (I actually heard someone say this), and not “regular” bodies. Others feel that that kind of self-gratification is just not for them; either they are uncomfortable about it or they feel that they don’t deserve it.

Let me tell you about my own experiences with massage. I have been privileged to have wonderful, skillful, empathetic and talented massage therapists work on me, and I have felt absolutely great afterwards. Massage does wonders for aching joints, arthritis, disease, sorrow, repressed feelings, and so much more. Massage therapists have extensive training, and often they will have had a background in physical therapy or are Reiki masters, and so on. They view bodies as a battleground to which they work to bring peace and comfort where there is pain and turmoil.

As we get older, many of things we’ve done in our youth come back to haunt us as pain and stiffness. I was a Tae Kwon Do and self-defense instructor for years, and only now do I realize the toll it took on my body. When teaching punches and kicks, you end up practicing them thousands of times, and your joints and tendons eventually let you know that they are not happy. So you end up with a lot of residual pain, and massage is a real blessing. It cannot heal the damage that has been done, but it soothes it to a point where your body and mind can let the pain go. In fact, after a massage, I generally have a great night’s sleep.

I’ve written about massage in this blog before, but after having that most welcome massage recently, it brought back all that is wonderful about it. Not only can massage soothe your mind and body, but I feel it sends messages to the soul: “it’s ok, you can relax now. All is well. Your sorrows and worries will not last forever, you will be able to have good sleep again, and you DO deserve this.”

This is just my two cents, but if you are on the fence about it, do give it a try. For me, it is comfort and peace when *the world is “too much with us.”

*”The World Is Too Much With Us,” by William Wordsworth:

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.”

Losing It, But Maybe Finding It

It has been 38 days since my mother died. She went into Hospice in the beginning of September 2015, and she died in the bedroom of her own house on December 16.

In that time, I have alternately wept, laughed, breathed, performed normal functions and so on. Each morning my dad calls me and we chat for a few minutes. Each week I go up and see him, and we exchange sympathy cards that have come to us. We marvel that, after all this time, people still write and to tell us what a wonderful person Mom was. And so she was. She lit up every person she met, and she brought a lot of love and joy to many people.

My grief takes strange turns. In my 64 years on this planet, I have lost relatives and friends along the way. But losing my mother has, for the time being anyway, taken the starch right out of me. If you see me and ask me how I’m doing, I will smile and even laugh and tell you I am doing well, that I am going through the “normal” process of grieving. But I don’t think I really am–I feel I am sitting on top of a landmine about to blow.

By the way, there is nothing standardized about grief; that is, it manifests differently for everyone. We know that death comes to us all; that’s non-negotiable. But knowing this and feeling this is different. For the record, my particular grief is turning to isolation, misdirected anger, fear of more loss, and punishing myself in many little ways as if this is all my fault. Why am I telling you this? Because when this particular stage of life parks its unwelcome and unasked-for butt on your doorstep, you will know that you are not alone in “crazy” feelings.

The three main things I loved to do; making jewelry, playing the ukulele and reading have temporarily lost their luster for me. I know that I will return to them sometime, but now is not that time. I tend to weep at odd times and for strange reasons. For instance, the sight of Mom’s favorite rainbow-striped fleece bathrobe in her closet brings me to my knees.

When my grandmother died, my mother went to bed for three days. During those three days, she mourned and grieved to the point that it scared me. But she had lost her own mother to cancer when she was only 14 years old. She told me that she had had my grandmother as a mother-in-law so many more years than she had had her own mother. It hit her hard, and she realized that she was now grieving for two.

I am no different than any other person who has lost a parent. I am grateful that Mom was in Hospice and could be in her own home, and not die in a hospital or in a horrific accident. She and my dad were married 60 happy years, and were the loves of each others’ lives.

I have come to realize that we do not grieve alone; our family and friends are with us, and they want to help. I also believe that our own angels are closest to us during this time as well. I must apologize to my own angels, and family and friends, too–my own fear of losing it completely in the presence of others is poor payment for their love and comfort. Please know that I have finally realized that I am not very strong right now, and I apologize for pushing people away from me. Just because my grief is loud, messy, teary and snotty (well, isn’t everyone’s?); which scares the living hell out of me (I truly hate not being in control), it’s no reason for me to pull away.

Today is the day I will call my therapist and make an appointment to start healing.