Friday, April 16, 2021

Time to be middle aged

I saw my new doctor a few days ago (my beloved one of 16 years prophetically retired at the end of 2019).  I hadn’t seen her since we first met about 3 days before the world shut down last year.  This week I was there for a basic check-up.  For the first time in 20 years, the primary focus was NOT my cranky back.  That deserves a get-to-know-you appointment all its own.

As the nurse was checking my vitals, she told me to lift my mask so she could take my temperature. 

“Wow!  That’s old school!” I said just before she plopped the little rod under my tongue.

Apparently the digital thermometers aren’t as accurate…and they are breaking from so much COVID screening use.  So the in-office folks are using the old fashioned thermometers that Millennials might mistake for a stylus. The nurse told me as much.

“Anyone under 25 has no idea what I’m asking them to do.  They’ve all grown up with digital forehead thermometers.”

As I was silently musing feeling a lot 53, the nurse handed me a sheet of paper and announced, “I have a little quiz for you!”  Having not been a student in over 30 years, I was both terrified and excited.

The paper was titled “MINI-COG CLOCK DRAWING TEST”  It had a large circle with somewhat (intentionally?) clunky instructions to draw a clock reading 10:45.

I stared at the circle with confusion and a teensy bit of panic.  Not because I don’t know how to read an analog clock (indeed, my left wrist sports an adorable one featuring a wide-eyed donkey). I was bewildered to be at an age that I am now being given “does her brain work” tests.

Spoiler alert:  it does.  At least by this measure.

I later asked Rob – who saw our doctor a couple of weeks ago – if he had taken the Clock Test.  He hadn’t.  He is two years older than I am, so I blame my cranky-back-dictated Medicare-based insurance.  It also is the culprit behind so much mail about hearing aids and Playskool-inspired cell phones.

As I confidently handed in my completed pop quiz, I wondered what a Millennial or Gen Z kid might do with the test.  Other than fail it miserably and be considered an early candidate for Memory Care.  I have encountered a number of teens and younger who have no idea how to read a clock with hands and a circle of numbers.  Reading a clock and writing cursive are apparently Old People Superpowers.

So what is a MINI-COG test going to look like in 30 years?  What Olden Days Superpower will Millennials dust off to prove they’ve still got brain synapses actively firing?  My proposal:  typing a text message using a number pad on a flip phone.

For the older eyes among us, the instructions are:
Inside the circle draw the hours of a clock as if
a child would draw them.  Place the hands of the
clock to represent the time "forty five minutes
past ten o'clock"

First stumbling block:  a child would probably draw
a rectangle and put a colon in the middle of it.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Pandemic – A Year Later

One year ago today, I’m pretty sure I was doing what I am doing right now.  Lounging in my Day Pajamas, feet up on the recliner, cat and husband nearby, staring out the window, pondering a pretty empty calendar. 

But a year ago, I was staring out the window riddled with fear and confusion.  Today I’m merely weary and mentally exhausted from a Year of Pandemic.

It is bizarre how normal “pandemic life” can feel these days.  Life of wearing masks and dousing hand sanitizer and stepping back from people and eating restaurant food in the car.  Life of not seeing family or being in an airport or hugging people outside my bubble (aka Rob).  All this weirdness seems normal now, automatic, routine.

Looking at my friends…whose unmasked smiles I desperately miss…there seems to be a shared weariness.  There is still laughter, but it is tired.  There is still joy, but it is cautious.  There is still life, but it is muted.

But slowly…thanks to astounding advances in the development and distribution of vaccines…some of “normal” is returning here in the Pacific Northwest.

Kids are back in school…sort of.  Restaurants have indoor dining…sort of.  Outdoor sports are allowing spectators…sort of.  Airports are getting busier…sort of.

Rob and I are seeing all of these changes from a distance.  For the past year, we have been very careful about not putting ourselves or others at risk of unknowingly transmitting COVID-19.  We have stayed away.  We have missed family celebrations.  We have declined invitations.  We have hermitted like introverted pros.  So until we both get vaccinated, Rob and I remain spectators of the rebirth of “normal” around us.

Early 50s is a very strange age to be right now.  It is old enough to acutely grasp the mortality of a pandemic yet young enough not to have any conditions granting vaccine eligibility.  Gen-X gets short shrifted yet again.  Rad.

When the vaccines first came out in January, I literally teared up with shared joy when I saw photos of healthcare worker friends getting their first doses of hope.  I remained relieved and celebratory as elderly friends and family got in line.  But over the past several weeks, as eligibility has expanded and backdoors have been discovered, I have struggled.

I have struggled not to feel left out.  I have struggled not to feel jealous.  I have struggled not to be judgmental.  I have struggled to celebrate with my newly vaccinated friends.  I have struggled to enjoy their social media posts of travel and family visits.  I have struggled to be a 53 year old and not a 5.3 year old.

I read an op-ed article a few days ago written by a 40-something Seattle Times writer who is feeling similarly.  He assured me I am not alone.  In fact, millions are right there with me experiencing what has even been given a name:  vaccine envy.  Even the fancy people at Harvard Medical School have it.  (Check out this article).  I guess that makes me feel better?

When the day finally comes  the glorious day of freedom and hope and hugging my parents and eating in a restaurant…the day I finally get that highly coveted shot in the arm  I will absolutely write about it.  I expect it to be emotional and unquestionably blog-worthy. 

However, sensitive to others still forced to press their noses against the pharmacy window, I won’t post my musings until we are firmly in the All-Skate Phase of vaccines.  That triumphant phase when anyone who wants a vaccine can get one.  That phase when everyone is finally invited to the party.  That phase when life really truly might start returning to something resembling normal.  That phase that I have every hope and expectation is only matter of weeks or a few months away.  


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Woodhaven circa 1871

A couple weeks ago, a goat-lovin’, farm-livin’, gets-her-hands-dirty-sort-of-gal friend of mine posted an unexpected yet totally characteristic photo of herself on Instagram.  She was wearing a country frock and a bonnet, staring into the camera with purposeful determination and a hint of a smirk.  The accompanying description promised more photos and referenced something called the “Target Dress Challenge.”  Off to Google I went.

This latest pandemic pastime started in late December thanks to a middle-aged woman in Alabama named Lorca Damon.  While browsing her local Target store, Lorca noticed a display of some godawful, old timey, shapeless dresses even Laura Ingalls would have balked at.

Lorca posted a photo of the hanging dresses with the caption, “Target has decided if we’re gonna suffer a pandemic, we might as well look like we just lost the farm after locusts ate our crops.”

According to the Facebook stat
thingy, Lorca's post has been shared
over 35,000 times.

The photo went viral and prompted 9 months of pent up pandemic creativity and punchiness to ooze out into fields and gardens and barns.  And onto Facebook and Instagram and Twitter.

Rarely on the leading edge of any trend, I nevertheless determined it was imperative that I mark this chapter of the pandemic by participating in the latest Fad of the Minute, having grown disenchanted with Photoshopping bemittened Bernie Sanders into my favorite sitcoms and iconic moments of history.

One, two, tell me who are you??

Perfectly dressed for the occasion.

I snatched my pandemic mask and trekked to Target.  I fully expected to do the Social Distance Dance around the dress racks as other snarky women swarmed the ugly dresses...assuming any were left.

Color me shocked to discover plenty of dresses available and not a single other shopper lightly fingering the hideous fabric with visions of social media posts dancing in her head.  And all the dresses…which looked more like birth-control nightgowns…were on Clearance!!  All the fun at half the price?!  Do the women in these parts not appreciate the irony of these dresses?  Do they instead have fashion sense and better things to blow $16 on?

Well, fiddledeedee.

With fitting rooms out of pandemic commission, I gathered a few dreadful possibilities and stationed myself in front of a mirror next to the purses and graphic tees. 

The sack dresses were all so flowy, I only needed to make sure they fit on the top.  Much to my surprise, even over a turtleneck and my more sturdy “out in public” bra, the dresses that fit were all one size smaller than I usually wear.  Apparently pioneer women don’t like being constrained.

Finding several compelling contenders…and contemplating accessories…I started texting photos to Rob for input. 

"The question is, are they returnable?"

"There might be the winner for the
ugliest fabric ever."

"Choose what you want to appear in.
And may God have mercy on your soul."

Back at Woodhaven, I assembled my props.  I am proud…but probably should be embarrassed…to say that I didn’t have to buy anything except the dress.  I did borrow one item from a friend.  True to character, he had exactly what I was hoping for and didn’t ask any questions.  He apparently knows my truth is often stranger than fiction.

It took about a week for Woodhaven’s weather to be suitable for a photoshoot.  And to convince Rob he wanted to be a part of this little adventure even just behind the camera. I have seen posts of men hysterically frocked in the ugly dresses…hairy legs and hairy chests and cans of beer further setting the scene.  I know my husband.  I didn’t even hint. 

If you Google “Target Dress Challenge” you will see lots of ridiculously fun photos.  If you go to this link, you will even see a few pix of my goat-lovin’ friend who clued me in to the challenge.  As for my contribution to this latest unfurling of Pandemic Fatigue, I humbly submit the following for your pioneer-inspired pleasure.


Self-sufficient and livin' off the land

She's not much of a layer but we keep
her because she's cute (referring to the chicken)


Daily chores are so tiresome. 
We fear Murray has gone dry.

But we haven't!  Robert's press has been a
godsend in these pandemic times.

Day drinking.  Because Pandemic.


Rob took all the photos in color and I had fun playing with filters.  I think the flag one looks prettier in color but it doesn't really go with the pioneery theme.  See what you think:

I bought my bonnet at an Oregon Trail 
museum in Missouri.  It's surprisingly comfy.

There were also a couple of other things I noticed along the way...

This is what I would look like about 50 pounds
and 20 years from now.

The dress is heartbreakingly comfortable. 
Dang that it's so ugly!  The dress even
has pockets!!!  Using them makes
me look like a nice, symmetrical rectangle.

I do in fact have a waist.  And untying the 
bonnet made my chin appear.  I also look
much more free-wheeling and perhaps a
little rebellious with those bonnet
straps a-danglin'

Pioneery rifles are super heavy.  I needed
instruction for how to hold it.  And my arms
felt too short for shootin' 

Taking these photos was a hoot and a half!  I highly recommend it.  If you find a Pandemic Pioneer Dress on Target online, know they run big and you can probably go down a size.  Men's sizing may vary.  

UPDATE on February 12!

Winter came quickly this year.

What will we do if the pipes freeze?
Do we have pipes in 1871?

If Robert were a hunter, at least
we would have pelts.

Blessedly, I knit and just invented
a new pattern for a hat.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

January 20th

January 20, 2001.  I was a month post-op on a Big Deal back surgery and therefore was at home recuperating in a fiberglass brace and flannel pajamas.  For the first time…by age, opportunity, and interest…I watched the Presidential Inauguration.  In real time, to the last dance.  The arrivals, the departures, the speeches, the pomp, the circumstance.  All of it.

That back surgery turned into a career-ending adventure, so I have made it a personal tradition to take advantage of my unemployment status to watch every Presidential Inauguration since.  Today was no different, except in the many ways today’s Inauguration was utterly and completely different than any other (facial masks, thousands of National Guard troops surrounding the Mall, flags standing in for people, Lady Gaga). 

My TV viewing started this morning at about 5:10am Pacific Time, thanks to a noisy cat and a body’s totally haywire thermostat (thanks, midlife).   My pre-dawn commencement meant I was able to watch the entirety of President Trump’s tradition-breaking departure from Washington DC in the wee hours while he was still President.

Some memories over the years:

  • In 2001, I remember watching President Clinton spend what seemed to be hours chatting up folks in the hanger as Marine One waited to fly him into retirement.  He didn’t seem to want to leave his post.  The TV folks eventually had to go to split screen coverage so that they could also check in on what the new President Bush was up to.
  • In 2009, I remember seeing Laura Bush enter the Capitol’s outdoor platform prior to the inauguration of President Obama.  It was one of her final duties as First Lady.  A camera was on her and a microphone was just close enough to pick up her warmly saying, “Hi y’all!” as she smiled and waved to friends.  I hadn’t paid much attention to Mrs. Bush while her husband served in the White House.  Suddenly I wanted to be her pal.
  • In 2009, I remember watching President Obama sitting nervously behind the huge wooden desk in the President’s Room just an hour or so after being sworn in.  He had a stack of leather portfolios in front of him, along with a velvety box of hefty pens.  A tradition started by President Reagan, the task was to sign a variety of proclamations and nominations, each with a new pen presumably given to key staff as souvenirs.  I watched as the weight of President Obama’s new job suddenly hit him as he did his World Leaderly best to ask for direction about why all the pens and what to do with the leather folders when he was done.
  • In 2017, I remember watching President Trump walk down the steps of the Capitol to send off the Obamas, with the elegant new First Lady trailing behind.
  • Today, I think I will always remember seeing Air Force One carrying just-barely-still-President Trump leave for Florida to the strains of Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way.”  Frank belted out the final words over the loudspeakers at Andrews Air Base just as the Presidential jet was airborne.  The precision was astounding.
  • Today, I also think I will remember President Biden staring into my living room and declaring with passion: “My whole soul is in this.” I will also remember the federal employee who was quick with his stack of sanitizing wipes de-COVIDing the podium after each speaker.   Because democracy and safety march on despite insurrections and pandemics.  Thank God.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Year of the T-Shirt

According to the Chinese calendar, 2020 was the Year of the Rat. Since the Chinese Zodiac doesn’t include skunks or honey badgers, I’d say a rat is an appropriate metaphor for 2020. 

Here at Woodhaven, with so much time to surf and a memorized credit card number and an eagerness to have shipped boxes provide some sense of excited anticipation for the future, 2020 proved to be the Year of the T-Shirt. 

Sorting through my unplanned collection, I realize my array of statement tees provides something of a reflection on the weirdness, the struggle, the hope, the humor, and the reality of what I truly pray is a Once in a Lifetime year. 

Because New Year’s Eve demands some reflection, join me on a little tour of 2020 T-Shirts: A Year in Review.

April 2020

I made this t-shirt myself (well, the print, not the actual shirt).  After a month in lockdown, Rob and I were venturing out soooo veeery carefully into grocery stores and take-out windows and curbside pick-ups.  I was overwhelmed by the courage, dedication, and kindness of the newly understood "essential workers."  I wanted a shirt that simply but sincerely spoke my heart to reinforce my words as the dedicated workers bravely served me.  Oddly, the only "Thank you" t-shirts I could find online mimicked the white plastic bags with red lettering that so many retailers use.  While close, I wanted something a little more personal and heartfelt.  A homemade stencil, some fabric paint, and a shirt carefully placed in my trunk by a masked Kohl's employee resulted in the first t-shirt in my 2020 collection.

May 2020

Still in quarantine but the sun is starting to shine, more is being learned about COVID-19, and panic is slowly being replaced by determination.  But hair is still uncut and Clorox wipes are better than gold and the novelty of Zoom is beginning to fade.  But it's fine.  I'm fine.  Everything is FINE. 

July 2020

Not surprisingly, my favorite shirt of the year.  Rules bring me comfort so I have been pretty compliant about mandates to wear masks and stay distant and limit my bubble and not gather in groups.  A determinedly Zen llama proclaiming social distance pretty much sums up my 2020 self. 

State rules at the time allowed for
unmasked speaking behind plexiglass. 
That changed in the Fall.
My inaugural wearing of my Llamastay t-shirt was for a surprise introduction on a Sunday morning in July.  Our church had been holding very scaled down, compliant, sparsely attended in-person services for several weeks. Nevertheless, we were all super excited to see each other and we started drifting towards each other in conversations after church.  Llama to the rescue!  I found Rona the Llama online (God bless Amazon).  She is 6 feet tall to the top of her ears.  She wanders around our church building, appearing in different places every couple Sundays.  She is a visual reminder of what 6 feet looks like.  Her sign says "Social Distancing Pro Tip:  Rona the Llama is 6 feet tall.  If she can face plant between you and hit you, you are too close!"  And yes, I am grateful and a bit mystified that my church family has continued to indulge my desire to worship with a (cardboard) llama.

August 2020

My self-directed Fair At Home was probably the highlight of the weirdness that COVID-19 demanded in 2020.  I refused to let the stupid microbe rob me of my most favorite time of the year, especially as it had smugly absconded with so much already.  It was an exhausting 10 days -- running a Fair is hard work!  But I had an absolute blast.  Learning about friends' hobbies, playing with neighbors, deep frying Dollar Tree's candy aisle.  All of it so different than my typical week of Fair and a desperately needed escape from reality.  Although I can not wait to get back on the road exploring state fairs as we did in 2019, I am grateful that COVID-19 inspired me to approach fairing in a new way this year.

September 2020

Lots of larger fairs this summer offered a drive-in experience through their fairgrounds to buy favorite snacks and get a literal taste of The Fair.  My beloved Clark County Fair was not able to convince enough vendors to give it a try, but the larger Washington State Fair was.  So one day in mid-September, Rob and I drove nearly 300 miles round trip to graze on a guilt-free array of roasted corn and Monster burgers and Dole Whip and corn dogs and garlic fries.  While it sounded delicious in concept, the fact that we were not allowed to stop to eat anything until we had exited the fairgrounds meant that most of our bounty was tepid and coagulating by the time we were able to eat it.  And I still have corn juice splurts sprinkled on my dashboard, mostly for the memories.  The best vendor was the souvenir stand at the end.  I'm not sure there is a better shirt representing the Pacific Northwest in 2020.

October 2020

Try as I might, I only lasted about 25 minutes watching the first Presidential debate.  But I watched long enough to hear what I was certain was destined to be an iconic catchphrase.  More memorable and iconic than Adm. James Stockdale's quip during the 1992 Vice Presidential debate with Dan Quayle ("Who am I?  Why am I here?").  (Rob and I have quoted him with some frequency over the years.)  So I snatched up this t-shirt to commemorate a moment in political history.  I've only worn the shirt a few times and suspect it will eventually live in the keepsake drawer with other mementos like my "GO/SH Who Will Be President?" t-shirt from the hanging chad 2000 Gore/Bush election.  Some people collect political buttons; apparently, I collect t-shirts.

December 2020

I bought this shirt in the Fall, and I have worn it a number of times.  And I am wearing it right now as it seems a fitting outfit for the last day of the year.  2020 has been hard.  One of the hardest of my life.  But not the hardest.  That honor goes to 2017 when I spent far too many days in hospitals as a visitor and actually had a running tally of how many airports I had cried in. But much like 2017, the struggles and challenges and hardships of 2020 have also produced unexpected lessons and insights and blessings.  It hasn't been a great year, but the t-shirt undersells it.  Nevertheless, I doubt I will have any problems remembering to write "21" on dates starting tomorrow.  2020 you were a trip and a half.  Thanks for the memories.  And now...onward.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Christmas Eve with Rojo

My life is so weird. 

A few days ago, Lori called with one of the strangest and highly honoring invitations I have ever received.  The taxidermist working on preserving Rojo the Llama wanted guidance on capturing Rojo’s face.  Shannon couldn’t bear to go.  Would Rob and I be interested in coming along?

I debated with myself for several minutes, trying to use social distancing as an excuse to say no.  Rob barely let me finish my sentence explaining the invitation before he said yes.  So many times recently (hello, 2020), I have found myself digging deep and saying an adulty ”yes” to things my less mature self wants to run screaming from.

And so that’s how Rob and I ended up in a crowded taxidermy workshop in southwest Washington on Christmas Eve.

We arrived right behind Lori and Becky.  I pulled my coat on over my “Llamastay 6 Feet Away” t-shirt, plunging my hands in the coat pockets to confirm my Kleenex stash.

I was about 15 feet from the entrance to the workshop when I heard Lori exclaim in a grateful, love-filled voice from its doorway, “OH, Rojo!”

I caught up and peered in.  A very thin, wide-eyed, expectant Rojo greeted me.  There was clearly still work to be done, but even in this very early stage of re-creation, Rojo was unmistakable.  Instead of bursting into tears, I smiled broadly under my mask and stepped closer.

The four of us studied our beloved llama. 

Arnie and his son never met Rojo in real life.  In fact, they had never heard of him.  They were starting to sense his impact when another client entered their workshop and nearly fell over when she saw Rojo.  “Oh my God!!  It’s ROJO!”  They declined her requests to take photos, but politely listened to her tell stories of meeting Rojo at a local school and posing for photos.  Maybe he was kinda famous after all?  Rojo's magic is working on Arnie, too.  Having never really noticed llamas before, Arnie is now fascinated by them and has (sort of) jokingly told his wife they need to move to a place with more property so he can have his own llama buddy.

Arnie didn't have any experience with llamas (few taxidermists do because really, who hunts llamas??) but he was willing to take on Rojo.  With no llama forms to use, Arnie has had to get creative modifying other body prefabs.  His wife, an experienced sculptor, has used clay to help transform a woodland creature into a llama.  Arnie was thankfully able to use Rojo's scull, so his head is the correct proportions.  Arnie has taken numerous exacting measurements and consulted with experts to make sure Rojo is just right.  "Ten people have worked on Rojo so far," Arnie shared with a mixed sense of wonder and dedication.

All of Arnie and Lyndon’s preservation work has been done based on photos.  Luckily, with Rock Star Status, there are thousands of Rojo photos available to show the tiniest nuances.  Nuances I didn’t realize I was aware of until I realized they were missing.

Could the eyelids be more relaxed?  Could the nose be longer? Could the lips cover the teeth a bit more? Could the cheeks be fuller?  Could the chin be tucked?  Could the nostrils be rounder?

It was astounding how just the tiniest change made such an enormous difference.  As Arnie relaxed the eyelids, Becky and I gasped as we both felt Rojo’s familiar, easy gaze upon us once again.

As the others talked and searched for clarifying photos on social media, I stepped closer to pet Rojo. 

As I touched the silky fiber on his neck, I was flooded with love and peace and relaxation and gratitude.  The memories of so much laughter and so many smiles and so much pure joy filled my soul.  It was the one moment I fished around in my pocket for my Kleenex.  But the tears were of gratitude, not sadness.

I wasn’t sure how I would react seeing a beloved friend all taxidermied.  I’ve had arresting reactions to seeing family members in caskets.  But instead of being creeped out or revisiting the depths of grief, seeing Rojo again brought joy.  My heart healed just a little more.

Strangest and most unexpectedly wonderful Christmas gift ever.

Friday, December 25, 2020

An 80th Birthday Tribute

Last year, my father-in-law texted me one of the most strangely amazing compliments I have ever received about my writing. I had posted a blog about the legendary Rojo the Llama who had just died. Rob’s dad texted, “Your tribute was so beautiful that it almost tempts one to die, just to get an obituary written by you. I can’t say more than that.” 

Well, I would MUCH rather write a tribute than an obituary! So, in honor of his 80th birthday, let me tell you about Rob’s dad, Carl. We call him Dad.
The first time I met Dad – in May 1990 – he was standing expectantly outside the entrance to Disneyland. He had a big, warm smile, a friendly greeting, and a camera. 

Rob and I had been dating for only a few months, but we were getting pretty serious. I was visiting Rob for the weekend (we lived about 400 miles apart) and we were going to spend the day at Disneyland. Through his job at a huge ketchup and oil company, Dad had some free passes into the Magic Kingdom. Rob arranged to have Dad meet us outside the gate so that we could get in for free. How cool that Rob came with such perks! 

I was a bit nervous meeting Dad – he was the first family Rob introduced me to. But Dad quickly put me at ease with his southern warmth. And then – as I would eventually learn is very characteristic – he asked to take a photo. As Dad aimed his camera at Rob and me, I assumed he was going to show the photo to the rest of the family curious about this new girlfriend. I have no idea if he ever did. And I have never seen the photo – another trait I would learn is pretty characteristic. SO many photos taken…but where do they go?!?
My first picture with Dad, in July 1990.
We were celebrating Rob’s and my very recent engagement
in a dining room not very recently decorated.
Despite joining the family in a whirlwind of a matter of months, I felt quickly embraced and welcomed, in large part to Dad. Born and raised in Virginia, Dad is a southern gentleman through and through. He always greets you with a broad smile and a genuine delight in seeing you. If you are in his home, you might get your coat off before being offered a cold beverage. This offer will be made frequently throughout your visit. 

Dad is an amazing storyteller. His memory is ninja-sharp, able to recall not just the names of high school teachers and the classes they taught, but which period of the day he took the class and who he sat next to. The ability to recall the smallest details makes Dad’s stories rich with color and scene-setting. With Johnny Carson as a favorite comedian, Dad also knows the importance of just the right timing when delivering a laugh line. 

Like we all do, some of Dad’s stories have been told a few times. Several years ago, he asked us to tell him when he starts a story that we have heard before. It’s a kind offer, but I would truly hate to miss out on another telling of the Scuppernong grapes or the Detroit riots. 

Dad is never in a rush. He moves with the relaxed ease of a window shopper, taking the time to look around and enjoy the moment. He is almost always the last to finish his meal at family dinners, and he is usually the last ready to leave the house or restaurant or event. Whether it is southern upbringing or wisdom…or both…Dad seems to savor the moments of life as gifts and is slow to let them pass. 

Dad is a fantastic dancer. I first discovered his happy feet at a family wedding in 2006. We were all gathered in a Texas courtyard under the stars when some ‘50s doowop came on. I love that music…as does Dad…and before I knew it, Dad was leading me around the dance floor like a pro, twirling me around, gently guiding my back to turn me one way or another, our feet twisting and flicking but never touching. I knew my back was going to scream at me the next day, but I could not have cared less. Rob is decidedly NOT a dancer, so it was such a gift – to both me and Rob – to dance with a confident partner. It was such a cherished moment, it was my motivation ten years later. Another family wedding was on the horizon and I was recuperating from a knee surgery. 

“What are your activity goals?” my physical therapist asked. 

“To dance with my father-in-law at a wedding in September.” 

And so we did.
Dancing at Ryan and Mary’s wedding in November 2006.
We danced at Matt and Chelsea’s wedding ten years later
but sadly there is not such epic photographic proof.
Other favorite Dad moments have been conversations just the two of us. Times when I have asked for his career advice since he is the one person in my extended family who truly understands what marketing research is. Times when I have shared and asked for insight about his first born. Times when we have been in cahoots about surprise gifts like a weather station or a photo album. Those times have been so special to me, when I have had Dad all to myself and have been able to ask about the tiniest of details and probe the vortex depths of his memory. 

Dad loves Elvis and baseball and driving. He loves laughing and chatting and hosting. Most of all, though, Dad loves family. I truly believe Dad is at his most content and joyful when he is surrounded by the laughter and chatter and ribbing of his kinfolk. When his mom and younger sister were still alive, Dad made more-than-annual treks across country in his Chevy Trailblazer to hang out in Virginia for a spell, catching up with cousins and classmates and neighbors. He often drove alone, preferring to see America unfold through a windshield instead of whizzing by through an oval window 30,000 feet above. 

Although Dad had a decades-long and successful career marketing tomato paste and pudding cups and popcorn and cooking oil, I am pretty certain the job he has loved the most is being a dad. He was 25 when Rob made him a dad for the first time. He was just shy of 51 when Rob’s youngest brother was born. 

Dad has been parenting, guiding, advising, and mentoring for over two-thirds of his life. And he is a master at it. His hand is not heavy, and his words are intentionally chosen. As his seven kids have grown…and added spouses and grandkids to the clan…Dad has deftly known when to step in and when to remain an observer. He is always quick to help when asked, often going way beyond what was hoped for. 

As a personal example, several years ago, I was hopelessly e-searching the nation’s Targets for a very specific and very elusive llama Christmas decoration for our front porch. I sent pleas to friends and family across the country. Always up for an adventure and the challenge to do the impossible, Dad managed to find not one but TWO highly-coveted Tinsel Llamas two states away. The details of his wizardry remain legend.
When you get married, you don’t just get a spouse. You get a family. I did not understand that when I married Rob at 22. But at 52, I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to have gotten Dad and the rest of Rob’s family in my marriage vows. 

Thank you, Dad. Thank you for welcoming me into your family, thank you for treating me as one of your own, thank you for the llamas, thank you for the dances, thank you for the conversations, thank you for the encouragements, thank you for the love. 

Happy Birthday, Dad! You are the biggest perk.
We didn’t have a professional photographer on our wedding day.
We didn’t need one. We had Dad.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Some best friends have paws

It's been a week.  A very long week.  A week of many tears.  A week of realizations.  A week of adjustments.  A week of gratitude.  A week of memories.  

I process life through words.  And so these are my words to try to grapple with the loss of a beloved friend.  Yes, a friend with whiskers and paws.  But a friend with a devotion for which I will be forever grateful. 


Zak was my insomnia buddy.  If I woke up in the middle of the night – as I often do – he would wake up with me and keep me company on the couch, making the dark, quiet house so much less lonely.

He was my morning lap buddy. A typical morning, Rob and I would wake up and make our way to our living room.  Within minutes, our laps were filled with cat.  Sarah would hop on and off Rob’s lap, as she prefers snuggles in 10-minute chunks.  Zak would barely wait for me to get my recliner footrest up and my legs covered in his favorite blanket before he would jump up and take over my lap for at least a half hour.

He was my surgery buddy.  He saw me through a knee surgery, a foot surgery, a hysterectomy, and two dental surgeries.  He would stay close and keep me company.  He was not fazed by the walker or knee scooter or fancy ice-water-pumping contraption.  Truly, the only thing that seemed to bother him was my protective placement of pillows around surgery sites to guard against his 15lbs of TLC.

He loved his tuffet.  It is just a brown Sherpa blanket from Costco, but it was royalty to Zak.  He would sit on it by himself, kneading it and covering it with happy drool.  But his most favorite…among the many joys he lived for…was to have a person under his tuffet.  Draping the tuffet over your lap was a surefire way to have Zak join you for belly rubs and purring.  He loved to snuggle up in the folds of the tuffet, demanding rubs and scritches.  I often had to reposition parts of the tuffet because it got all wet with his mouth dripping joy.

His tail was spectacular.  If he was walking, the tail was always…ALWAYS…straight up in Happy Tail Position.  His tail was tall and so very fluffy.  It had a tiny crook in it, at the very tip.  Maybe a half-inch bent at a 45 degree angle.  We have no idea when or how that happened, but at night, if we were joined by Cat and weren’t sure which one it was, we could find the tail and feel for that crook to know it was Zak.  That crook, and the straight-up tail happiness reminded me of a drum major hat’s feathery pompom.  So often, I would see just the top of Zak’s tail walking behind a coffee table or over the edge of the bed and it made me smile that Zak was leading a band of pure happy.

Zak was a big kitty (15 lbs.) and an even bigger personality.  He was totally extroverted and loved people and life and toys and food and windows and blankets. He was a literally heavy cat but his spirit was light and playful and curious and eager for adventure.  But he was also totally laidback and easygoing.  We often said he was actually a big orange tabby in a black suit. 

His paws were huge.  He could catch flies merely by placing a pancake paw on top of the poor thing.  He let us play with his paws, fingering the tufts of fur between the pads.  And he was very accommodating when it was time to give him a pawdicure.  I simply needed to let him sniff the nail clippers, then hoist him into my lap in a sitting position like a person sitting in a chair.  I was able to hold each paw and clip his nails in less than about 3 minutes.  He didn’t really like being trapped – he loved his freedom – but he was always an agreeable client.

As much as he sort of bulldozed through life, Zak was also polite.  In the middle of the night, he would come into our bedroom and come to my side of the bed and gently meow with a hopeful expectation.  If I didn’t answer, he would pad away and try again in a few minutes.  If I quietly chirped back, Zak would excitedly jump on the bed and walk all over me until he found just the right position to let me rub his belly.

Zak loved belly rubs.  To the point that if he was laying on his side and you tried to pet him, he would twist and contort and snatch your hand between his front paws to trap them over his tummy.  Never with claws and never with aggression, but always with determination and instruction.

He was a toy hog.  If we were playing with Sarah, Zak would decide that her toy must be better than his so he would simply take over.  We found the only way we could play with Sarah was to either exhaust Zak first or play with them in separate rooms.  But even in separate rooms, Zak would eventually get curious about all the fun playing noises coming from the other room and suddenly Rob and I found ourselves switching cats.

Zak was the King of FOMO.  He loved life and people and didn’t want to miss a single thing.  His Fear Of Missing Out meant he showed up whenever the doorbell rang or a toy was offered or a couch was audibly sat on or the door from the garage was opened or the treat canister was opened or one of us moved to a new room.  Zak was always present, which makes his sudden absence so wrenching.

He was our greeter.  Taking the reins from Brad, Zak eventually became Woodhaven’s Ambassador.  If someone came to the front door, Zak would eagerly trot to the entry way and position himself on the carpet behind us.  He would sit expectantly, eager to see who was arriving to say hello to him.  He would always need to sniff a hand first, but then his head was fair game for anyone who wanted to give his soft head a greeting.  I absolutely love Pam’s description: “When we would come for a visit he would present himself as lord of the manor welcoming his guests. Swiping a leg here a hand there with his most magnificent head and tail.”

Zak loved football.  And Fraiser.  And The Brady Bunch.  And The Amazing Race.  And Open Worship (Quaker-speak for communal meditation). He loved anything that caused Rob and me to snuggle up on the couch together for extended periods of time, Tuffet draped over me, my hand ready and available for slightly distracted belly rubs and head scritches.

He was our dinner visitor when we ate in the Lounge.  Usually about mid-way through dinner, Zak would casually wander in and position himself between our two chairs.  He was never offered human food, so he wasn’t there for treats.  He was there for attention.  I would try to get a head rub in before he flopped down to present his tummy.  Rob’s arms are longer, so Rob would be in charge of the belly rubs while I sat there and watched, smiling at our wonderfully goofy and predictable kitty.

We had a season…of almost three years…of poop.  Poop outside the litter box.  Poop on carpets in our dining room and bedroom and bathroom.  Behavior that was a medical issue that took a long time to decipher.  During that time, we worked diligently with our vet with tests and exams and diets and supplements.  Our moods would rise and fall on where and when Zak pooped.  We have a ream of monthly calendars tracking where, when, and who poop happened.  We hired a Cat Behaviorist who enlightened us on the World of Litterboxes.  For over a year and a half, we had five litterboxes in our house – including two in our formal dining room, one in our bedroom, and one in our bathroom.  We were stressed and exhausted and frustrated and resentful.  We had tough conversations and such horribly conflicted emotions.  And then a desperate plea to God in the middle of the night resolved the matter in less than a week with the trial of a not-often-used medication.  That medication gave Zak his quality of life back.  That medication gave us our kitty and our uncomplicated love for him back. 

We started Zak’s medication about one month before the COVID-19 endless season of quarantine began in March of 2020.  Sooo many times during our extended staycation, I said out loud how grateful I was that the Poop Issue had been resolved before quarantine.  So grateful that the four of us were spending long hours together in our home without my ears tuned for scratching on the carpet to cover up errant poop.  So grateful that we were just happily hanging out together as a family, enjoying the gift of time and waiting. 

He had favorite spots to sleep.  The top of the circle scratching post in our bedroom that was entirely too small for him.  Under the table in our Lounge, often when Sarah was nearby in her wooden wine box.  On the couch – either end, as long as it was against pillows.  On the small guest room bed, snuggled up against the pillows on the right side.  On the fuzzy blanket on our bed at the foot of Rob’s side.  On the comfy alpaca blanket under our coffee table. On the futon in our study, forever covered in black fuzz because he was the only one who used it. Recently the floor of our walk-in closet, for no discernable reason.  And always in cardboard boxes. His favorite was a large Blind Onion Pizza box we got extra for him, reinforced with masking tape at the corners to manage his girth.

A friend passed along a story about the connection between pets and their people.  The story said that when we choose to bring a pet into our lives, we choose tears.  Tears because it is very probable that we will outlive our furkids and one day be forced to endure the searing pain and devastation of their loss. When we had to put our beloved cat Brad down, I cried for days.  More tears and with more agony that I have cried over people. But in the midst of the tears was gratitude.  I realized that tears of sorrow are actually a gift and a reflection of having given your heart to someone. Sobbing uncontrollably is exhausting, but it would be so much more devastating not to have any tears at all.  Zak was deeply loved, with wads of kleenex all over the house as unnecessary proof.

He was the Best Cat Ever and my buddy.  I am devastated that he is gone.  I love you, Zak.  Thank you for choosing me as your person.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Loving Zak

I had the most remarkable dream last night.  A dream unlike I have ever had.  A dream just hours after learning that my beloved 11-year-old cat Zak died suddenly, most likely of a heart attack.  I was not with Zak when he died.  He was at a “luxury cat boarding” facility, a facility we had only used once before.  Zak and Sarah were there so Rob and I could quarantine on the Oregon coast in celebration of our anniversary later this week.

In my dream, Rob and I were in our living room.  It was filled with soft, natural, bright light that was white like it was reflecting fog outside.  I didn’t look out the large windows to notice the weather.  But I did notice that the light in one of Zak’s favorite rooms was relaxing and calming and peaceful.

Rob was in his recliner.  I was uncharacteristically sitting on the floor in front of my recliner.  Sarah, our girl cat, came into the living room, happy tail and ready to eat.  I smiled and said to Rob, “I guess she is going to be ok.” 

Sarah and Zak had never been apart for more than an overnight stay when Sarah got spayed.  They were litter mates and life has always included the other.  In my dream, I was clearly aware that Zak was dead and our concern was now how Sarah would respond.

As I relaxed watching Sarah’s accepting demeanor, Zak appeared from around Rob’s chair.  He nonchalantly but purposefully walked behind me, brushing his 15lbs of fur and girth against my back.  As Zak jumped up on the couch in front of me, I looked at Rob, astonished.

“Amazing things can be done with the right equipment,” he shrugged with a smile.

I immediately popped up off the floor and joined Zak on the couch.  He was now stretched out, presenting his belly for rub, a request that happened multiple times daily in real life.

As I moved in to start petting Zak, I turned my head and looked at Rob.

“This is a dream, isn’t it?”

Rob didn’t say a word but his resigned but encouraging face confirmed my statement and urged me to take advantage of this very literal answer to prayer.

I began to run my fingers through Zak’s dense, soft black fur.  He was warm and silky.  As I ran my fingers over his sturdy body, I gathered up fur between my fingers like a hair stylist does when they are getting ready to trim. 

I spoke to Zak.  I told him I loved him and that he was an amazing cat and that we were so lucky to be his people.  I told him I was seeing him right now because God was answering my prayer just hours before, a prayer that I got to see Zak one last time, to touch him one last time, to talk to him one last time, to love him in the flesh one last time.  One last time so that my last memory of Zak wasn’t the frantic phone call from Jo at the cat boarding place, hysterical with words I never want to hear again.

I got to be with Zak on our couch for only a few minutes.  He rolled around and purred and made sure I scritched all the right spots.  He let me love him and he loved me right back.  I soaked in the moments, entirely present with Zak while also entirely aware this was a dream.  And a gift.

As Zak rolled his head upside down so I could scratch under his chin, his face changed from pure black to white and gray.  I was staring at his newly grey nose when the dream ended and I woke up.

I absolutely believe that God answers our prayers.  Every time.  Often the answer is “no” or “not yet” so it seems like he’s not listening or not really there.  But then there are times when he answers “yes” almost immediately, in a way even better than what we asked for, in a way that envelopes us in his love and his exactly right care for us.

Thank you, God.  Thank you creating Zak.  Thank you for allowing Rob and me to be his people. Thank you for the perfect answer to my prayer.  Thank you for love.


Zak 11 years ago, clearly taking over

The best lap kitty

A hunter and a toy hog