Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

It is Thanksgiving Eve and I am cooking tomorrow. I have just figured out how long I need to cook my nearly 10-pound turkey breast based on my recipe for a 6-pound turkey breast. (I’d ordered what was advertised as a 4- to 6-pound turkey breast; what was put in my arms as a 9.75-pound one. Panic has been slowly building.) Algebra was never my forte, so I hope my calculations are correct. For that matter, I hope algebra is the type of math I needed to use to figure this out. It has been decades, after all, since I sat in a math class.

While God did not bless me with a mathematical mind, He has blessed me in many other ways. Despite my many losses over the past two years, I am thankful for countless other blessings this Thanksgiving.

I may have lost Bailey earlier this year, but I still have Brillo and Chaucer to entertain and keep me company. I think Brillo is channeling her brother these past few months. Things fall on the floor a lot more often when her paws are nearby then they used to. That is eerily reminiscent of Bailey and his paws of destruction. She has become quite the lap kitty since my lap is no longer full of Bailey. I can’t help but think with some of her antics that Bailey is still with us. And for that I am grateful.

I am grateful for the memories of Thanksgivings spent with Bate, Dad, Bob, Mom, Lisa, and Mark. I remember the smell of the turkey cooking on the wood stove in Westport, waking Bob, Lisa, Mark, and me up with growling tummies. I remember Dad making a beeline to the sideboard to see what desserts I’d baked that year, almost as if to gage how much turkey and trimmings he could eat and still have room for apple crisp or pumpkin pie. In later years, I remember waiting for him at the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport for his annual trip to Virginia. I remember Bate’s smoked turkey from three years ago that we shared with Bonnie, Lanny, and Lanny’s family. Bate was so excited about his smoked turkey. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t like it that much (the year before it was way too smoky for my taste) and now I am glad I didn’t say a word, just pulled up my big girl panties and smiled. It was our last Thanksgiving together and the smoked turkey was perfect. Everyone loved it.

These are Thanksgivings that will never come again, but they will live on in my memories and I am grateful for that.

I am grateful for the new memories being made this year. Susan is down from Massachusetts for the week, and I am cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in years. I’m a little nervous about that turkey, but there will be plenty of other food for Susan, Bonnie, Lanny, and me to eat, albeit vegetarian fare. I’ve seasoned the beast … eh, I mean breast … and wrangled it into Bonnie’s crock pot. It was too big for mine and barely fits in hers, but I have decided that barely is like “almost.” It counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and turkey wrangling. All that is left now is to set my alarm for 1:30 am so I can put the bird in the crock pot and pray that God will correct any of my mathematical miscalculations.

But what I am most thankful for this year, as in the past two years, are my friends and family, without whom I would not have gotten through it all. Thank you, for being there, for understanding, for just being you. You are my blessings. I can never say it enough or thank you enough, so I will just say, Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Saunterings

It is going to be a busy week here on Kensington Drive, and I couldn't be happier.

Tomorrow, my friend Susan arrives to spend the week. It's her first vacation in years and I haven't seen her in two, since my Dad's funeral. The weather forecast is calling for rain and snow, so I am not sure how much sight-seeing we will be able to do, but it is going to be just so much fun to see her.

And, I am cooking on the big day. I've finalized the menu, ordered the turkey, and today I went grocery shopping to get the rest of the stuff I need. (The most important itemon the list was the cat food, of course. If I didn't get that, Susan and I would have a miserable week...two furbabies would ensure that!) I purposely chose to go to Martin's on Sunday morning figuring it would be quiet. I was wrong. It was crowded. Crowded with clueless husbands chewing on their fingers or staring blankly at a shopping list like it was written in Greek. I have said this before, but I will say it again here: Ladies, if your husbands cannot tell a fork from a spoon, please do not send them to the grocery store on their own. Just like they don't ask for directions when they are lost, they don't ask grocery clerks where an item is located when they can't find it. Instead, they wander aimlessly up and down the aisles - usually in the middle of the aisle. I felt sorry for these poor men, who were so obviously out of their league. I also feel sorry for their wives or mothers or daughters or significant others who will have to go back to the store later this week and try to explain to the store manager why they need to exchang the cream of chicken soup for the turkey gravy.

Bonnie and Lanny are coming over for dinner too, so it should be a wonderful afternoon of good food (I hope) and good company (I know). After some games or maybe a movie, Bonnie, Susan, and I will rest up for our Black Friday excursion. We'll shop, of course, and scoring that perfect gift at a great bargain is one of the payoffs. But for us, the real payoff is breakfast afterward, when we will rehash our purchases, lament the bargain that got away, and all the crazy people out in the wee hours of the morning doing their Christmas shopping. Really, haven't these people heard of Cyber Monday, when you can shop in your PJs?

As if all of this is not enough, Saturday wraps up Susan's visit as well as Picture Book Idea Month. I am thrilled that I already have my 30 ideas -- and them some. I put my groceries away and settled down -- a cat on either side of me -- with my PiBoIdMo journal, my lap desk, and the "Who, What, Where" game that a fellow PiBoIdMo participant raved about and went to town. I shuffled the cards and "dealt" 15 who, what, and where scenarios that tickled my creative funny bone. Some are just the ideas, others are more fleshed out, with a summary of what might happen or a list of things that could. For the rest of the week, I will go back to those ideas and bubble them -- developing the characters, the setting, and the problems my zany group of characters might face. And they are zany --there's a camel doing karate, a music loving alligator, and a dolphin who thinks he's invented the next big game, involving an ice rink, balls, and clubs. I can't wait to see where these guys take this writer! One thing is for sure -- it'll give Black Friday shopping a run for its money!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Of clothes, memories, moving on

Susan will be here in just two weeks, which means I have to get going and get the guest room into a habitable condition. I've been putting it off, cleaning the kitchen, the dining room, the breakfast nook, the family room instead. Doing anything to avoid the biggest task of all: bagging up Bate's clothes and taking them down to EAUS. I should have done this months ago -- in the midst of this slow economic recovery, there are people who could be getting the benefits of his shirts and jeans instead of leaving them scattered on the guest room bed.

You see, I started this task months ago, going through his closet, selecting a handful of shirts and the suit he wore when we married to keep, and then sorting the remaining shirts and ties and jackets into piles. And that is as far as I got. Every time I walked into the guest room, armed with plastic bags, I froze. Giving away Bate's clothes, even to a good cause, seemed like such a final step, that once his clothes weren't there, he wouldn't be there either.

Which, of course, is stupid. Bate will always be in my heart, my memories, with me in the way he influenced my life. I will never be able to pick up a book by Henning Mankell and not think of Bate. I will never be able to eat Chinese food or listen to an Eva Cassidy or Van Morrison CD and not think of Bate. The truth is, I really don't notice the clothes on the bed, it's not the clothes themselves; it's the thought of no longer having them there, comforting in one way and a huge painful, burden in another. They are not just clothes, just something else I have to let go of, like Bate, like the dreams we shared that we will never realize, and all the little day-to-day things that no longer happen.

And that is the hard part -- letting go. I have resolved to bag up the clothes this afternoon and take them down to EAUS. It is time, time to move forward with my life, buoyed up with happy memories of Bate, and not burdened by the sight of clothes that will never be filled out with Bate's warmth and bulk. It is time to let these clothes to move on with their lives, too, to be filled with the warmth and bulk of a man that someone loves just as much as I will alway love Bate.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Saunterings

Fall is definitely here. The temperature has dipped into the 50s and the air is so crisp and clear it makes the sky seem bluer and the foliage brighter.

The foliage season seemed late in coming this year. Here it is November and the trees, at least to these eyes, have just donned their new fall clothes. The colors don't appear as brilliant to this, but deeper, more saturated. The yellows aren't sunshine-dazzly but burnished gold instead, and the reds aren't flame but rich burgundy. It isn't any less beautiful, just different this year. I like it.

It hit me this weekend that in just three weeks, my friend Susan will be here for Thanksgiving. I have decided to cook, and Bonnie and Lanny will be joining us. I haven't planned out the entire menu, but I am going to order a turkey breast from the Friendly City Food Co-op. The turkeys are all locally raised, grass fed and all that good stuff. I've never roasted a whole turkey before, so I decided the breast will be a safer choice!
Of course, company means I have to get the house in order too. I spent today cleaning up --- read that as clearing out the stuff (yeah, there is more accurate four letter word for it, but I will leave that to your imagination) that has piled up. How can one single woman accumulate so many little pieces of paper? Cleaning off the breakfast nook table, the kitchen counter, the living room coffee table (both of them) scared me a bit. Could I be a hoarder in training? I found scribbled recipes, deposit receipts, old grocery lists, and magazine articles I'd clipped and never looked at again -- and some I can't figure out why I saved. They are all in the recycle bin now, so I guess there is hope for me. I hope -- I have yet to get to the office....:(
I am three days in to Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo, as it is fondly called) and let me tell you, this is tough! I have three ideas, two more solid than the third, or at least it seems that way right now. Two, not surprisingly, feature cats as the main characters and the third a child whose wish on a star Uncle Jack's Cats and Jamie and the Corn Thief and getting the members of the Stinky Socks and Smelly Sneakers Good Acts Club out of the haunted house they are in. But I love the concept of having all of these ideas waiting in the wings for their turn at bat. I have only been moderately successful at the 12 X 12 Picture Book Challenge this year because my brain froze at the prospect of coming up with 12 new manuscripts.
comes true --immediately. All three need a lot more fleshing out, but I am purposefully leaving them bare bones ideas, ideas to fuel my creativity when I come back to them. I have enough to handle revising
And I am still having some trouble with that. Which is why this is hard. I guess I want my ideas to be perfect ideas, ones that will transform into a picture book. Of course, thinking that 30 ideas will all be just perfect and turn into a delightful story for kids is pretty pie in the sky. I know that, but I have a harder time convincing that little man who lives in my head and loves to say "that's a dumb idea. You can do better." I wish I knew how to silence him. I've battled him my entire writing life, and try as I might, I can only drown him out for so long. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It's almost Picture Book Idea Month!

Two days to go, and Picture Book Idea Month, aka PiBoIdMo, is off and running. And I am scared. 30 picture book ideas in 30 days? It sounds so simple...and so not simple.

But after this summer's black hole of a writer's block, I know that I need a stable of ideas to play around with when I'm screaming to myself, "I have no ideas to write about!" So come Friday, I will be off and running too. Please cheer me on!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Remembering Bailey, Part Two

It’s been a couple of days since I lost Bailey as I write this. Even though Brillo and Chaucer are here, my house seems bigger and emptier then usual. Bailey had this big, goofy kitty personality that filled up a room. 
Bailey with the catnip shrimp Santa
brought him this past Christmas (2012)

From the time I brought him and Brillo home from the Fox homestead, in July of 2007, Bailey claimed the house as his own. There wasn’t a surface, nook, or cranny he didn’t explore. I tried lemon juice, aluminum foil, all the old wives’ tales for keeping kitties off kitchen counters. Failure, each and every time. If Bailey wanted something on the counter, Bailey got on the counter. 

Bailey had a knack for getting into trouble. I called his paws “paws of destruction.” He would tap on something with his paw – a glass, a mug, a dish, a book – to see what would happen. If nothing did, he’d tap a little harder, then a little harder. I lost several dishes and glasses that fell off a counter or table with a little help from those paws of destruction.

He also tended not to listen to me. “No” did not seem to be in his kitty vocabulary. As a result, he ended up with four names: Bailey Benjamin Bartholomew Brown-Hamilton. That was quite a mouthful for a little 10-pound kitty – and for his Mama too. Usually by the time I got it all out, he was on to his next bout of mischief. He had a couple of nicknames, too: Bailey Bones when he was being good and Bailey Monster when he wasn’t.  

Brillo and Bailey birdwatching
Bailey also loved to sit on things, like my stereo, magazines I was trying to read, my black pants. The stereo is one of those all in one units with a touch on button on the top. It sits on my sideboard, and both Bailey and Brillo like to sit on top of it. They often turn it on, which can be a tad unnerving at 2:30 in the morning or coming home from work. Just this past Sunday, Bailey jumped up on the sideboard and plopped down on top of the stereo. My guided stretching CD started to play. Now it’s great when you’re exercising, not so great for background music. I was at the dining room table, writing, and the two kitties were bird-watching. I glanced up at one point, and Bailey had his head turned to look at me, with this look in his eyes that said “Are you going to turn that off?” I had to laugh. “Don’t look at me,” I told him. “You turned it on.”  

Like any kitty worth his catnip, Bailey loved being up high. Problem is, I think he was like his Mama – afraid of heights. He had no problem getting up on top of the kitchen cabinets, but getting down was another thing. More times than I care to remember, I had to climb up on the kitchen stool and pluck him off his perch.  

Unlike any kitty worth its kibble, Bailey wasn’t fond of fish. Vegetables, especially green vegetables, were his food of choice. I found this out quite by accident one summer, when I was puzzled by zucchini in my vegetable bowl that seemed to go bad faster than it should have. The rotting all started at one end that had gouges in it. The other squash was fine, so I just shrugged it off, cut off the rotten section, and sautéed up the rest. The next day the other squash was similarly distressed. I couldn’t figure it out, until one afternoon I came in from the patio and Bailey was contentedly gnawing away on the zucchini. He was so content he didn’t even see me snap a picture of the guilty party in action. 

Bailey had some other strange habits, too. He would drive Bate nuts, sitting on the washing machine and meowing plaintively at a Norman Rockwell print I have hanging in the laundry room. He’d stand on his hind legs and reach his front paws out over the picture, almost as if he was hugging it. He didn’t do this with any other picture in the house and to this day I have no idea of what it was about that print that elicited that reaction. He eventually outgrew the habit, much to Bate’s relief, but every once in awhile, he’d go back and hold this secret conversation with the man and the woman at City Hall applying for a marriage license. Recalling it now, maybe Bailey was a frustrated artist, maybe I should have given him some paper and paints, and I could have been the owner of the rich and famous kitty Picasso.

Bailey was pretty much content to be a house kitty, but every once and awhile, usually at his sister Brillo’s urging, he would try to make a break for it. He figured out how to open the screen slider (and taught his sister), so now I have to go out the breakfast nook door to get to the deck. I can’t leave the slider unlatched.  One day he got out when I was coming back in from getting the mail. I didn’t know he’d snuck out, until I looked out the dining room window and saw him, trotting oh so casually down the driveway. He hung a left onto Kensington and was almost down to Somersby before I caught up with him. I was furious – and scared – at the time. Remembering the incident, it strikes me that Bailey looked like a cat on a mission as he trotted down the street. It seemed like he knew just where he wanted to go. Hmmm….

Is there anything in there for me?
Bailey never met a bag he didn’t like. It didn’t matter if it was plastic or paper, large or small, if there was a bag available, he was in it, or at least trying to get into it. Bailey didn’t give up easily, so he would continue to try to squeeze into bags half his size. He fell off the bed more than once, as head in bag he kept trying to get ALL the way in. Of course, all he accomplished was moving the bag, and before too long, he and the bag were head over heels and on the floor. Bailey didn’t want to snooze in the bag, like Brillo, he wanted to check it out and see if there was anything in there for him. The bags were always empty, but Bailey never gave up hope that this time there’d be a catnip mouse or a kitty treat in there just for him. 

Bailey also never met a person he didn’t like. My Dad never got to meet Bailey, but I am pretty certain he would have become a cat lover if he had. It didn’t matter who came into the house, Bailey would go over, sniff them, then roll over on his back for a belly rub. Then the purring would start. I have never had a cat who purred so loudly. Dr. Cardoza at VETSS told me she had a window of about two seconds to listen to his heart; then the purring started and there was no chance of hearing anything else. She wasn’t the only veterinarian who treated him who said that. 

Bailey was a once in a lifetime cat. Brillo and Chaucer are wonderful, and I love them dearly, but Bailey was, well, he was something else. Anyone who met him would agree. There is a void in my life now, and it is going to take some time to learn to live with that.

I miss you, Bailey Bones, and I will never forget you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Remembering Bailey, Part 1

Things were just a little off this morning. Brillo echoed the alarm clock by meowing in my ear at 5:30 am. Chaucer’s strident meow from the doorway announced he was starving. 

It was a morning like any other morning. Except Bailey wasn’t there to smack me on the head with his paw if I didn’t respond immediately. He wasn’t there to echo the meows of his sister and brother. He wasn’t there to lead me to the cabinet where the cat food is kept as I stumbled into the kitchen and tried not to trip over him, something I was not always successful at.  
My baby kitty Bailey

Bailey is in heaven, rolling in a field of catnip and, if I know my baby kitty, looking for the chance to get into some mischief. (God, if you’re listening, don’t leave your laptop unattended.  Keys have a way of disappearing when You’re not looking and Bailey is around.)  

I made the toughest decision of my life last night – I told Dr. Salmon at VETTS in Charlottesville it was time to end Bailey’s suffering. He had been diagnosed with HCM at the beginning of December and while initially the medicines he was on worked well, he quickly went downhill. Since Christmas Eve, he has been in and out of the emergency vet clinic and Woodworth Animal Hospital. It has been a steady downward spiral and when I came home last night and found him struggling to breathe, I knew this was it. 

Dr. Salmon, Vivian, and Molly at VETTS were wonderful. They were waiting for us when we arrived and Vivian whisked Bailey off to an oxygen crate. She got some additional information from me, then Dr. Salmon came into talk with me. She told me what she thought was happening and what we could do. We could intervene, she said, and it would buy Bailey a “few days.”

No, I said, I couldn’t do that to myself. More importantly, I couldn’t do that to Bailey. “It’s time,” I told her. She nodded. “Just because it is the right thing to do, it is never the easy thing to do,” she said. 

After I signed the paperwork consenting to the euthanasia, Vivian brought Bailey into me. I had decided I wanted to be with him when he slipped from my arms to God’s. “Take as long as you want,” she told me, after giving me a hug.  

Bailey and I spent our last 20 minutes together, snuggling and cuddling. I told him how much I loved him, shared memories of all the silly things he’d done in the past five and a half year, and told him again how much I loved him.

And then it was time. Dr. Salmon had me stand at his head while Vivian held him still. It was over in less than a minute. Bailey slipped away from me, with his head on my hand, the way it often was when I was on the computer and he was snoozing next to me.  

Bailey will be cremated and I will get the ashes back. I am going to plant a tree this spring in his memory and bury the ashes there. Bailey will live in my heart and my memory, but a tree will be that visual reminder of the kitty with the goofy cat personality. Bailey could always make me smile with his antics, even this morning, in the middle of my grief. 

Mama loves you, baby kitty, and she always will. Rest in peace.