The Cat Whisperer and the Skunk Whisperer

Although the Crankee Yankee and I have been feeding and sheltering stray cats for years, we also feed the resident skunks—generations of them. They live under the shed in the back yard, and they feed right along with the cats. Every spring, we see the skunk moms shepherd their little ones around, and pretty soon they too join the dinner time throng.

Now we both love cats and skunks, but the Crankee Yankee seenms to have become the cat whisperer. Some of our most shy cats will eventually let the Crankee Yankee pat them; he has a way with them. This is how we came to adopt or Plumpy-Nut and Tinker; they were strays we fed for a long time. Winter was coming, and we had no way of knowing if they belonged to anyone.

So the Crankee Yankee was able to get them into carriers, and we took them to our wonderful vet to be checked out. They got their shots, flea treatments, microchips, and Plumpy had to be neutered. They came home with us and are part of our happy family of five cats.

For me, it’s the skunks. I have always liked them, and think that they are adorable. They really don’t want to fight with you or spray you, but if you startle them, they will spray. When a skunk is getting ready to spray, they will first stare right at you and start thumping their front paws on the ground. This is their prelude to turning tail to spray. The first time I saw this was when I was filling up the “skunk bowl” with food.

A tiny skunk was watching me, and started thumping his little paws on the ground. I looked him in the eye and said, “Now look, Sunny Jim—I’m the one who feeds you. Mind your manners.”

And whether he understood or not, he stopped thumping, stretched out his front legs and lowered his little head. It looked almost as if he were bowing to me; it was hilarious. Even so, I am very careful not to startle a skunk of any age. As soon as the bowl was filled, I slowly walked near him and put it down on the ground. It only took him a minute to start eating.

Our latest little guy waits for the food and water to appear. I usually put this out around 4:30pm, but often a skunk or two will be waiting. This year the littlest one, whom we call “Arlo,” waits patiently for his grub before all the skunk crew arrives.

Now skunks as a rule do not see very well, but ironically their sense of smell is excellent. So is their hearing, so I’m not surprised when they appear to listen. As with humans, it isn’t always about the words, but the tone. I keep my voice low and soft, I don’t make any quick moves, and I keep a good distance between me and the skunks.

So far, it’s been a good deal for all of us. Who knew? All we and the cats and skunks know is that we are family. (Queue up “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge here.)

The Power of Journaling

I have kept journals for years. It’s not just recording what happens each day, but it becomes a sort of ritual that captures who you are at the moment, and what you are going through. It’s a way of connecting with yourself, checking in on yourself and seeing where you are emotionally, physically, mentally.

I learned a long time ago not to write journals as if someone else would read them; it wasn’t as if I were Ann Frank and the whole world would someday know my life story. I learned over the years to just write it out, warts and all. Everything’s journal-worthy; there are no rules or directions; no need to sanitize—just write.

After I divorced my first husband, my journals were filled with anger, hurt, and all the bad things I wished on the man who had hurt me (he was a cheater; my one deal-breaker in marriage). In my journal, I called him every name in the book. I let out all my anger and hurt and outrage in many journals. Years later, I burned them all. Now he and our marriage are a very short memory, and there is no more anger or hurt. All that went up in smoke.

There is great power in writing out your feelings. Once they are on paper, they somehow lose their strength and their ability to hurt you. Writing has become such a daily habit that I feel off-balance if I don’t write each day.

I write down everything that’s on my mind, even the petty stuff. It’s amazing how you can be all grown up, yet something from your childhood still has the power to needle you. This is what journaling does; it acts as a conduit for the release of emotions that, if left inside, will steadily eat away at you.

Writing, for me anyway, is a way of bringing clarity to anything that’s happening in my life. I lost my mother to metastatic breast cancer in December of 2015, and my dad on April 22 of this year. It’s been a lot to process. But writing helps. It’s a way of connecting with them, remembering them, and understanding that death is just a transition.

Since I am a huge Harry Potter fan, I see my journals serving the same purpose as Professor Dumbledore’s pensieve. The pensieve was a stone bowl into which it was possible to empty thoughts out of one’s mind. As Dumbledore explained to Harry Potter, “I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind.”

We have all had those moments when our minds are too full and won’t let us rest. For me, keeping a journal is my own personal pensieve. Once I have ‘written out’ all that’s on my mind, I can be clearer in my thinking and feel more at peace.

That said, writing down your thoughts and feelings may not give you complete peace of mind, but it’s a good step in the right direction. There is just something cleansing about seeing your thoughts and feelings on paper that will help clear your mind. You no longer have to keep those hurtful and upsetting thoughts in your mind; they are already written down and you can revisit them at your leisure.

Give it a try and see how you feel. Journaling is a lot like chicken soup when you have a cold; it couldn’t hurt.

Choosing Laughter

This has been a hard couple of months. I have found that, in the midst of grief, despair, anger, depression, fear and worry, that laughter can quite literally save your life. It’s doing it for me right now:

When I have a bad day, I choose laughter.

When everything turns to poo, I choose laughter.

When grief overwhelms me, I choose laughter.

When I feel I’ve lost my way, I choose laughter.

When I am on the precipice, I choose laughter.

When I feel I’ve lost myself, I choose laughter.

When the world around me is too much, I choose laughter.

When there is too much going on, I choose laughter.

When I despair, I choose laughter.

And did you know this (from the Mayo Clinic website):

“A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:

  • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.”

Laughter can come to us from the most unexpected places, too. Example: the Crankee Yankee and I were driving up to our local Chinese restaurant last night, and on the way we passed a business called “Mapletree.”

Well, my mind often goes off on its own little journeys. I thought that the sign said “Maple FREE,” and I said, ‘since when did a business have to be maple free? Are people now allergic to maple?!’

As soon as the Crankee Yankee could get his breath back from laughing, he told me that I had misread the sign, but had made a great joke.

More laughter!



Trying Not to be Judge-y

Ever see someone and wonder what they are like, up close and personal? I do, because I am a natural nosy person. Not long ago I was in a store (you know—the one where you can buy clothing and jewelry, food, wine, auto parts, toothpaste, etc. and pick up your medications) and noticed a young woman who was very ‘out there’ in her fashion choices and makeup. She was probably in her mid-20s, and was very pretty.

She had chin-length blonde hair, tipped in violet (a style I would LOVE to try if my own hair wasn’t so short), and was tall and slim. She had quite a few tattoos and piercings, including a sparkly nose ring and a belly button ring. Her outfit was short shorts, woven platform sandals, a cropped top and lots of jewelry.

I happened to run into her close to the check-out lines. She was talking on her SmartPhone, so, nosy as I am, I took a look at her purchases. There were some pretty high-end things in there, including an organic chicken, a boiled lobster, avocados, fresh pomegranate juice, endive (an expensive and delicious kind of lettuce), brie cheese and a large jar of macadamia nuts.

As she talked on her phone, she pulled out her card to have it ready for the check-out line. I was close enough to see that it was an EBT card.

Well, I’m ashamed to say that my first reaction went something like this: “Well! That’s a lot of pretty fancy stuff for a gal using an EBT card! I wonder how much all those tattoos and piercings cost?”

What a crass and judge-y thing to think. Of all the times I yammer on about taking the high road and looking for the good in other people—and this is what came first into my mind? Have I learned NOTHING about judging people based on what I see?

Honestly, I felt lower than whale poop. What is it about us humans that we want to believe the worst about our fellow man? Who am I to judge anyone? Is my life and the way I do things so perfect?

That lovely girl might have worked her way out of an abusive relationship and was claiming her life back. She might be in the process of getting herself together and enjoying a few luxuries after years of want. She might be all alone in the world and was making her own way on her own.

Or she could have just been another human being doing what she wanted to do; it is her life, not mine. Am I such an example of the perfect person? Hardly.

The moral of this true story is this: we are none of us perfect. We can’t know someone based on what we see. We don’t like to be judged on superficial things, and we don’t appreciate it when people who don’t know us make unfair judgements on how we live our lives.

I hope that I can remember this the next time I jump to conclusions. Lesson learned—I hope.

Why Smiling May Keep You Sane

Last night I stood in line with three items; frozen yoghurt, ice cream and sorbet. It had been a hot and muggy day, and even the A/C in the grocery store couldn’t overcome the humidity. I was in the “12 items only” lane, behind a gal with about 20 items, but as every other lane was packed, I just stayed where I was. I was hot, tired, and just wanted to pay for my three little items and go home.

Well, 20 Item girl had trouble with her debit card, which had to be inserted four times to get it right. Then there was a small argument about whether or not a potted plant had been paid for after the card was inserted. Then the manager had to be called over because there was another glitch, then another and then one more.

My three items were slowly melting, even with the A/C running. The people behind me were getting restless, and there was a lot of sighing and muttering building up. I wasn’t thrilled about this either, but I knew that getting angry and impatient would only make me hotter, angrier and probably melt my sorbet. So I pasted on a smile and decided to make this a “zen” moment.

I began doing this a long time ago when I finally learned that you can sigh and shuffle your feet and roll your eyes all you want, but none of that will ever change a situation like this. All it ever does is add to the impatience and chaos that is already building up in mind and body.

All the other lines were packed and even with all the kerfuffle going on in front of me, it was still my best option to just stay in line—and smile. There is something deep in our cells that responds to a smile. There are tons of studies out there that tell us that smiling can actually change our brain chemistry, our mood and our outlook on life.

In the ten minutes or so when 20 Item girl was having problems with her card, I could have spent that time fuming and tapping my feet irritably, which would undoubtedly have raised my blood pressure and would have done nothing to improve the situation. So I smiled and it made me feel better.

It’s very possible that those around me saw me as a simple-minded smiling cluck, but at least my blood pressure stayed low. And eventually, as I knew it would, 20 Item girl finally got straightened out and I and my slightly mooshy confections were on our way home.

Smiling is the chicken soup of the body. As the old comedians used to say about chicken soup for a cold, ‘it couldn’t hurt.’ Same goes for smiling your way through an aggravating situation—-it couldn’t hurt.


Why Re-Reading Books is Never a Waste of Time

I grew up in a reading family. After dinner, it wasn’t unusual for all three of us to gather in the living room, each with our own book. Mom and I read for pleasure; Dad read for information.

Mom and I both kept book lists, and when one of us discovered a new author, we let the other one know pronto.  Then we had the pleasure of discussing it afterwards. My book list was just the book title and the author; Mom’s was that plus her commentaries on each and her own rating system, 1 to 10. Any book below a 7 wasn’t worth the time to read it.

We were in lockstep about books, authors and commentaries about books and authors. But what Mom could never understand was my passion for re-reading books.

“What a complete waste of time!” she would say. “There are so many wonderful books in the world we haven’t read; why would you waste your time on re-reading a book that you already read?!”

Well, here’s why: first of all, there is no dishonor or ‘points off’ for re-reading a book you love. It’s wonderful to open that well-worn book, saying to yourself, ‘oh, I remember this part; this was one of my favorites!’ And then snuggle down, sighing in pure pleasure of remembrance.

The real find in re-reading books was to discover a sentence (sometimes a whole paragraph) that you could swear you had never read before. This happened often to me; when I really get into a book, I will gobble it down so quickly that I will often miss bits of it.

When I discovered the fabulous *Harry Potter series (I think by then book two, “The Chamber of Secrets” was already out), I couldn’t wait for the next one to come out. And if you too are a fan, then you will remember the enormous hoopla that happened whenever a new book in the series hit the stores.

My wonderful patient Crankee Yankee would drive me to the nearest WalMart and wait for me while I stood in line to get my copy of the latest Harry Potter book. When we got home, I would stay up all night to finish it.

By the way, this also happened with the Harry Potter movies; the Crankee Yankee would buy me a ticket, tell me to have a good time, and off I’d go. The entire theater would be filled with all of us Harry Potter nerds—and we couldn’t have been happier!

I own every book in the series, and I can’t count how many times I have re-read them. I also have CDs of each book to listen to in the car when I am feeling Harry Potter-ish. Also, when I am having a bad night and can’t get to sleep, all it takes is a chapter or two of one of these books.

So if you too love to re-read some of your favorite books, please know that you are not alone. I am right there with you, excitedly turning pages and saying to myself, ‘oh, yeah—this part is the BEST!’

Just for the heck of it, here’s a joke about books that Mom and I loved:

Every week, a chicken would come into the local library, hop up on the librarian’s desk, and say, “book-book?”

Each time he did that, the librarian would pick out a book and tuck it under the chicken’s wing.

This happened every week, and one day the librarian was so curious that she followed the chicken. It took off along a path to a large pond, and in the pond sat a fat frog on a large lily pad.

The chicken looked at the frog and said, “book-book?”

The frog squinted at the title and said, “read it-read-it.”

*If you have never read this series of seven books, please do give them a try. The premise of the series is this: what would it be like to find out that you were famous in a world that you never knew existed?