BIRTHDAY BLOG UPDATE

Every evening, before we go to bed, I like to ask Russ “What was the best thing about today?” It’s a good way to end the day, thinking about and discussing the positives of the day. So today, on my 61st birthday, I’ll extend that question to myself, but for the entire last year: What was the best thing about my 60th year of life?

There were many things I could mention, but with only a few moments of thought, I came up with this: my March visit to Mary in Seattle. I hadn’t seen Mary in a while, I’d never been to Seattle before, and we did a good deal of traveling, going into Canada overnight, and also taking a day trip to the delightful little mountain town of Leavenworth. Every picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let these pictures make my point.

Now, as long as I’m talking about “what was the best thing about last year,” I think it only fair to also mention what was the worst thing about last year, and surely that was losing Squee. Actually, more than just losing him a few weeks ago, it was all the weeks and months that led up to that moment, giving him medicines, trying different cat foods, multiple vet visits, and still seeing our once vibrant and healthy kitty cat practically dissolving before our eyes. That was bad, but now it’s over, and now we go on.

I should note is that my birthday marks one solid year since I started this blog. I haven’t been as active here as I had originally intended, but now that I’ve “found my voice again,” I’m hoping that will change. It’s good to have hope. So that’s one of my hopes for the future.

But I have another hope, one that I’m really excited about. Over the last couple of years, I have lost quite a bit of weight, going from about 195 pounds, all the way down to 155 last year at this time. In the last year, though, through various vacations (see the above-mentioned Seattle trip, as well as a couple of trips to Florida to visit my dad, plus our yearly trek to the beach), I managed to get back up to about 170. Not acceptable!

So, beginning tomorrow, as soon as the birthday cake is gone, I’m going back to what works for me: limited gluten and limited sugar. I was just talking to Mary and she is a big proponent of “NO gluten,” claiming that being extremely strict about keeping gluten out of your diet can make a BIG difference in your ability to lose weight, and I’m sure it can, but I don’t like to deal in absolutes. When you use words like “no” and “never” you open yourself up to failure so much more, which can so easily lead to discouragement, which can then lead to abandonment of your otherwise very good plan. So I prefer to deal with the word “limited,” which may in fact mean NO gluten or NO (overt) sugar on many days. But on the days when “absolutely no never not at all” is not in the cards, I can still consider myself successful.

So here I am. Sixty-one years old exactly. Today. And today I can thank God for all the wonderful things that have happened in my life, and for all the terrible things that have not. And I can look forward to this next year with an expectation that whatever happens, God will be with me, and I have the ability to make wise choices that will hopefully lead to the best possible outcomes.

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WE GO ON

Three Wednesday nights ago, we were agonizing over the decision we had made, but Squee was still with us. So, tomorrow morning, it will be three whole weeks that he’s been gone. My mother always said it took three weeks to get used to any new situation, and in some ways this is true…but in other ways, not. I don’t feel as sad as I did the last time I wrote here, and I’m not thinking about Squee as frequently as before, but when I do think about him, there is still a certain note of melancholy. I’m making progress, but I’m still not 100% adjusted.

It still seems rather new and wonderful that we can prepare dinner and leave a fishy frying pan sitting on the stove while we eat in the next room. (And I’m feeling less and less guilty about thinking that’s wonderful.) It’s also kind of strange to wake up in the morning and not have to prepare cat food and scoop the box. Mornings are now less hectic…but also a little sad, not having a little kittle to greet me when I wake up. We go out to eat on a Friday evening and don’t have to worry about remembering to turn on the Feed and Go for the extra meal, don’t have to worry how late we can stay out. But when we get home, nobody is there. Sometimes I say “Hello, House! How were you? Were you a good house today?” But obviously it’s not the same as coming home to Squee.

So yeah, I still miss him. And I think I will for a while. But I have to say this: posting about him last time and gathering up all those photos of what he looked like when he was fat and healthy made me realize that what I really miss is that fat, healthy and robustly gorgeous fellow he was—not the sickly old man that sometimes seemed nothing more than a bag of bones. Looking at all my pictures of him also made me realize that it was only a very short time that he was SO sickly. The hyperthyroidism sapped his weight and his energy, but not really for that long a time. The worst of it came on fairly rapidly, towards the very end. Most of his life he was very healthy. And very happy. So I feel good about that.

I gave him a good life. I was a good Cat Guardian. I can feel proud of that, content with that. I did my best. It’s not a terrible thing to bring your cat to the vet for that last visit when the alternative is that your poor beloved animal would otherwise just continue to waste away, and maybe die alone while you’re away at work…or worse yet, while you’re out late on a Friday night, having dinner. No, it’s better that we were with him at the end.

I will never forget Squee, or any of my pets that have gone on ahead of me to the other side. But I know from experience that it becomes easier and easier to think of them with less sadness, to only remember the good stuff. That’s the natural progression. So we go on, and embrace a “new normal” that eventually seems more normal than new.

The next time I come here I think I’ll be talking about something other than Squee, other than Cat Guardianship. But I felt it only proper to spend a few more moments reflecting on that fine fellow who was my last baby.

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LIFE OF SQUEE AND THE EMPTY NEST

Squee lived with me his entire life. Well, he spent the first six weeks at a cat shelter, but after that he came into my family for sixteen and a half years. In 2002, while Mary was doing her high school community service at Cats Exclusive she fell in love with a little black kitty named “Zoro.” Mary managed to convince me that we needed to add this little guy to our home, which already contained two cats and one dog.

Mary promised she would care for the new kitty, but that was never really the case. When all was said and done, Mary went off to college and Zoro, now renamed Squee, stayed behind with me. I was always his Mommy. Even when he grew to be a very old man and developed hyperthyroidism which shrunk him from a robust 16 pounds to his final weight of 5.4 pounds, I was still, always, his Mommy.

When I moved in with Russ in 2007, Max the cat and Cookie the dog had already left this world, crossing over the Rainbow Bridge to wait with Fritz and Wendy and Zoot and Tapper and Lucy and all the others who, without their unconditional love, Heaven could not be truly Heaven.

Only Squee and Boogins came with me to Alabama and we formed a new family with Russ. After Boogins also departed this world in 2012, our family dynamics changed again. Before that, Squee had always been a bit aloof. Boogins, as the older brother, was so confident and personable and adorable, he tended to suck up all the oxygen in the room. Though the two were buddies, there was also an undeniable sense of sibling rivalry on Squee’s part. When Boogins was around, Squee was always only “the other cat.”

But when Boogins left us, Squee finally had the opportunity to blossom in the role he had apparently always desired — The Only Child, the apple of his Mommy’s eye. Whereas before he would never even consider jumping up into my lap (mostly, perhaps, because Boogs was already there), now at last, finally…there he was! I’ll always remember how surprised I was the first time it happened. I sat still and quiet until he settled himself down. Russ walked into the room, and I just pointed at Squee, and Russ too was amazed! Eventually it became an almost daily routine, the pounce into the lap, the kneading, the settling, and the contented catnap.

Previously, with two cats in the house, Russ and I would always close the bedroom door at night, because there is nothing more annoying than waking up in the middle of the night with two cats hissing and sparring at the foot of your bed. But now that it was only Squee, we opened the door, and many times he would jump up on the bed and cozy up by my feet, or in the crook behind my bent knees.

This is what Squee had always longed for, to have his Mommy’s complete attention, and I’m very glad that in the last years of his life I had the opportunity to give him that. And even though he never really “bonded” with Russ the way he did with me, I feel confident in saying that Russ did not mind it when I talked to Squee about all the things “Mommy and Daddy” were planning to do for him.

Those last couple of years with Squee were difficult, watching him age, watching him shrink as a result of his hyperthyroidism, no matter how much medicine we gave him, and watching his health deteriorate. We did everything we could to make him as comfortable as possible. We adjusted his medicine as needed, and we eventually found the perfect cat food, one that completely agreed with his sensitive stomach. We fed him in the most fabulous invention ever, the Feed and Go wheel, that allowed him to eat several small meals throughout the day while we were at work, sometimes eating every two or three hours, just like (I’m told) cats in the wild, who munch on mice or small birds as often as they can be caught. I’m completely convinced this marvelous invention kept Squee alive and happy for very much longer than he would have been otherwise.

We found a good vet who, unlike some other vets I’ve known, really actually cared about cats, rather than just viewing felines as a necessary annoyance in an otherwise canine practice. Of course Squee never much enjoyed going to the vet but merely endured the poking and prodding every six to eight weeks, when I took him for a nail clipping and B-12 shot.

Towards the end he also got a few does of fluids, because he was dehydrated, even though he was drinking so much more than ever before, and even though I was “spiking” two or three of his daily meals with chicken broth (roasted chicken bones cooked with apple cider vinegar overnight in the crockpot, then strained and frozen as individual servings that were microwaved in a bowl to provide a soupy base for his canned food.)

I feel confident I did everything I could to make Squee’s life as comfortable as possible, and Russ was so agreeable, not squawking at all about the cost of the food or vet bills. Russ was super through all this. He recognized way before me that the end was coming and gently talked to me about it, but it took a little longer for me to accept the truth.

That finally happened last Wednesday. I had been noticing for a while that Squee was having some difficulty moving around. He would take a few steps then stop and stand there for a good long while. Was this mental decline? Did he forget where he was trying to go? Or was it physical, his old muscles just aching too much? Or maybe a little bit of both?

Then last week I began to notice him stumbling around a bit, his back legs going out from under him. I didn’t say anything about it, but on Wednesday Russ mentioned that he had seen the same thing. And then it hit me. It was time.

That last night, after we made the decision, Squee did not even jump up to sleep in his favorite chair, covered by his favorite blankets. Instead, it appears he spent his last night crouched on the floor. He looked so uncomfortable. I felt it was the sign I had been asking God to give me. At last I knew there was only one more thing I could really do to keep him from being uncomfortable.

In the morning, we took Squee to the vet, the one that likes cats, and he was still 5.4 pounds as he had been on his previous visit a couple of weeks before, and it helped me when the vet explained that his stumbling could be due to the deterioration of his muscle mass. I knew from picking him up that he was basically nothing but skin and bones at this point.

I gently hugged my tiny cat of skin of bones, but not too hard, and talked to him softly as the vet got ready to give him the shot. Squee struggled in my arms, but then the vet gave him the shot, and in only a moment my little cat went limp in my arms, he stopped struggling. And my main impression at that moment was that for a quite a while life had been a struggle for us. Russ and I were struggling to keep him comfortable, and Squee was struggling to stay alive, to stay healthy and hydrated, and then finally he was struggling simply to move, to jump up into his favorite chair. But now the struggle was over.

I must tell you I’ve cried quite a few times in the last week, and will probably cry again. But not only for Squee. Yes, I miss my kitty cat baby, but to be honest, I don’t miss scooping his litter box, buying expensive food, cooking roasted chicken bones, setting up the Feed and Go, worrying about him and how much less he might weigh on his next visit to the vet. Life is now going to be a lot easier, and a lot less worrisome, to be sure. And so much different.

Because I did the math and realized that for the last 34 years I have had at least one cat (or more, and once as many as four cats at one time, which I wouldn’t recommend!) I also had cats before that, off and on, but I have been a Cat Guardian, without pause, for 34 years.

So now I have to get used to a “new normal.” Russ and I have agreed to be “childless,” (no cats or dogs!) for the foreseeable future. We’re hoping to enjoy some of the advantages of a life without pets —a cleaner house, more freedom to travel, less worry and commotion. I’m looking forward to all that.

But at the same time, I feel guilty about seeing the plus side of no longer being a Cat Guardian. Am I dishonoring Squee’s memory by looking forward to a life without him?

I will say this: I’m glad he’s no longer uncomfortable. Or struggling. Or, maybe, even in pain. I’m glad he’s joined Boogins and Cookie and all the rest on the other side, waiting for his Mommy to join him, to join them all, so Heaven will truly be Heaven for all of us.

I just hope he will be a little more sociable and not fuss about having to share the spotlight! Because when I get there, there will be a LOT of furry friends getting my attention!

But in the meantime, I’m still here. Cat-less, childless. If you think about it, this is really the first time in my life I’m experiencing the “Empty Nest.” Joey moved out two months before I joined Russ in Alabama. Two months of organizing, planning and packing is not enough time or the right set of circumstances to fully embrace the Empty Nest.

And then when I got to Alabama, I had Russ. And I also still had Boogins and Squee. And when Boogins died, I still had Squee to take care of. But now I have no one to take care of. Russ is telling me I can take care of him, but I think he’s being “tongue in cheek,” just trying to make me feel better, because he doesn’t need taking care of, at least not the same way a pet does. So at last I have no one to take care of. At last I truly have an Empty Nest.

In a while I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but right now it’s only been a few days, and it feels weird. I’m still sad about Squee being gone, and as excited as I am about beginning a new phase in my life, I’m also sad for that time of my life that is now behind me. I know I’ll never forget Squee, the same way I’ll never forget Boogins or Cookie or any of the others. I know each day will get easier, will feel more normal. But I’m not there yet. Not quite. But I wanted to come here and write about this now, while I’m still in the middle of it, so later, when the “new normal” has kicked in, I can come back and read these words and remember what this feels like, and be grateful that the sadness doesn’t last forever.

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MY WORLD IS GETTING SMALLER…AND I LIKE IT!

For most of my adult life I’ve practiced the art of “de-junking” to one extent or another, but in the last few years my interest has really picked up, as evidenced by multiple photos I’ve taken of all the stuff that’s gone out of the house. I take the photos for tax purposes, but whenever I look at them, it simply amazes me how much excess stuff I’ve been able to eliminate from my life. And what’s even more amazing…I don’t really miss any of it.

It also makes me wonder: how is it that a person like me, so intent on de-junking and simplifying her life, continues, year after year, to be able to fill so many bags and boxes for “Goodwill”? I remember several times letting go of a bunch of stuff and thinking, “Well, that’s it. There’s no way I could possibly find anything more to get rid of.” But then a few weeks or months later…there I go again! It just keeps coming out of the woodwork.

Sometimes I have to wonder, at the same time that I’m sending massive amount of stuff out of my life through the front door, am I also secretly bringing more useless and frivolous stuff in through the back door? Or, as time goes on and my “de-junking muscles” grow stronger and stronger, am I now just more emotionally able to let go of stuff to which I previously felt a much stronger attachment?

I think it’s a little bit of both.

The good news is that as I’ve become more able to let go of stuff, I’ve recently made a commitment to stop purchasing quite so much. For instance, I can’t think of the last time I stopped at a yard sale, and I now only visit thrift stores when I’m on vacation, partly because I see it as a traditional social activity to enjoy with my daughter or sister (and I must admit, I’ve picked up a number of nice items this way). However, when thrifting far from home, it helps to know that I have limited space in my suitcase, so I can’t really overdo it.

Now, after Mom died in January 2016, I made several trips to South Florida to see my dad, and each time I came back with quite a bit of sentimental stuff that was my mom’s. I probably took more than I should have, as I was just trying to hold on to her. Every item seemed infused with meaning, even though it may not have been particularly valuable. Since then, I’ve been able to let go of a completely ordinary letter opener from her desk, and some decorative little pill cases that don’t really stay closed very well. But I’m keeping the porcupine pen holder/pencil sharpener, which I think may have originally belonged to me, maybe twenty or thirty years ago.

Right now, though, I’m struggling with some lace curtains. Mom always loved to decorate in what I call “cottage style,” which includes white furniture, and lots of bright pastel fabrics, and of course lace curtains. Nobody else wanted these panels upon panels of white lace curtains, so I stuffed them in my suitcase, even though I really don’t have anywhere in my house to put them.

There’s a thought in the back of my mind that someday when we move to our next house, in five to ten years from now, I may have windows that will need lace curtains. So, should I just keep them packed away for the next five to ten years because maybe they’ll be of use? Isn’t that really a terrible waste of perfectly good curtains? Wouldn’t Mom prefer it if I donated them to a thrift store so somebody else could hang these curtains and enjoy them? In the future, if I want to honor Mom, and my new house needs lace curtains, I can always go to the store and buy new ones. I can honor her with the idea of lace curtains. They don’t have to be the exact same curtains, do they?

So maybe now, after writing all this out, ,maybe next time I clean out the closet in the front room, I can muster up the emotional strength to say goodbye to these curtains.

But I feel I’ve gotten a little bit off track here, because what I really wanted to talk about is how my world is getting smaller, and how much I like that. With all the de-junking I’ve been doing lately, I am almost able to feel a difference in the house, as if the house itself is beginning to draw in a deep sigh of contented relief, but hasn’t yet completely released that sigh. You know that feeling when the season is about to change, and you get that first little tingle of something different in the air, like an invisible burst of energy? It’s not there yet, but somehow you know a change is coming. It’s like that. I know a change is coming, though I doubt anyone else walking into my house would be able to sense it quite yet.

Some big things are gone…like the treadmill we never used. Some smaller things too… clothes that didn’t fit well, a purse or two, excessive drinking glasses and wicker baskets. The absence of some of these things maybe could be detected by an observant eye, but the biggest change I’m making right now is in my files, my paperwork.

We recently bought a portable scanner and I’ve been going to town with that thing almost every night, turning pages upon pages into neat little PDF files on my computer. Altogether, all these pieces of paper (some up to forty five years old!) probably took up less than a couple dozen inches of shelf space, but with this project, for me, it’s not just about clearing the physical space in the real world, it’s more about my mental clarity.

First of all, it’s been a blast revisiting my past by reading term papers I wrote in high school, letters my brothers sent me when I was in college, reviewing all the useless certificates I accumulated during my long and undistinguished academic career and beyond. Stories I wrote…and notes for stories I never wrote, but might someday. Just digging all this stuff out of my files and looking at it again has really helped me re-connect with who I was…and who, in many ways, I still am.

But in addition to all that, I’m getting such great satisfaction in seeing all these documents pile up next to each other in my computer! They say that of all the papers you cram into a file cabinet, you’ll probably never look at 80% of them ever again. And that may be so. But it now feels so wonderful to know exactly where those documents are, taking up NO room in the physical world, yet ready to spring back to life with only a few clicks, should I ever want to see them again.

And in the meantime, hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of paper are going out of my life forever. Part of what I’m doing in all this de-junking is preparing us for a smooth move to our retirement home in five to ten years from now. All those papers will not be taking up any space in our moving van! The computers and portable hard drives will come with us of course, but they were coming with us anyway. And they aren’t any heavier to carry due to the added chronicles of my entire life.

But it’s more than that. Let me get back to that idea of “mental clarity.” There’s this thing I do whenever I travel and it comes time to pack up to go home. I begin moving all my stuff geographically into one central location. Everything from the bathroom goes into its traveling bag, which goes on the bed. Everything in the drawers goes on the bed. Pretty soon, if it’s not on the bed, I don’t even have to think about it. My world has gotten smaller and smaller, and I am focused on my smaller world, so I can now function and complete my required task with a high degree of certainly that I will get it all done completely and correctly.

Focus is vital.

Having all my “Papers” in one computer—rather than in files and piles and binders all over the house—makes me feel FOCUSED. Now I KNOW where everything is and can find whatever I need at a moment’s notice. And that feels terrific!

Does that make me a Control Freak? If so, so be it. Gaining a greater sense of control in a world gone out of control helps me feel more centered and more certain. And it certainly makes me feel calmer. I need these clearly defined boundaries between my own stuff and my own responsibilities…and everything else in the world, over which I have absolutely no control.

So…yea, organization! Yea, focus! Yea, a sense of conquest over the physical world! I know that I am not my Things, but some Things have importance and significance for me, so I will keep them, and keep them well. Knowing what those Things are, and where they are, in my mind replaces Chaos with Focus.

A Focused World is a very small world. So yeah…I live in a very small world. But that’s okay, because I like it here.

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HOW TO GET FROM WHERE I AM TO WHERE I WANT TO BE

As I have been organizing all my papers for scanning (more on the whole scanning project in my next post!) I ran across a journal entry I made in February 2016 which still strikes me as highly motivational and inspirational. So I thought I’d share it here.

Last night I had a dream that I looked in the mirror and was very pleased with what I saw. I had a lot of very shiny hair, it was sort of silver and very pretty. I’ve also been dreaming a lot lately about moving into new houses or apartments. I know my own personal dream symbols: this means it’s time for a change!

I started this year saying I would make a change, and even before that, when Russ got me that Marvel tee shirt for Christmas, I said my goal would be to lose enough weight to fit into it. I haven’t actually made any moves in that direction yet, but I feel like I’ve spent the last six weeks or so preparing mentally. And now I feel more prepared to actually do something!

(Note: Since February 2016, I HAVE lost enough weight to fit into that tee shirt and always wear it when we go to see a movie.)

There’s this phenomenon where you can KNOW something…yet even though you know it, you continue to act like you don’t know it. Or maybe it’s that you act like you don’t believe it?? Or maybe you don’t believe it’s important or significant enough…

I’ve spent a good many years knowing that if I keep going the way I’m going, I’m not going to end up where I want to be. The path I’m on does not lead to where I want to be. I’ve known for a long, long time I need to get off this path and get on to another path.

I guess maybe I’ve always felt there will be plenty of time to change paths. But you know what? Really…there’s not. Not anymore. And anyway, why would I WANT to wait? The sooner I begin to make these changes I know I need to make, the sooner I get to start being the person I hope to be.

Do I want to always be who I am now—fat and undisciplined? Lacking in personal health and person style and confidence? Or do I want to be better, more confident and more clear-headed than I am right now? What do I GAIN by waiting, by delaying? Nothing. And maybe I lose a lot.

Note: I’ve come a long way since I wrote those words in February 2016, but I still have so much further to go! But it’s encouraging to me that since I wrote those words, I seem to be closer to the path I want to be on, and in some ways, I’m even actually ON the path. That’s all I can really ask, to every day be getting closer and closer to what is true and good for me.

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BEST CHICKEN SOUP EVER!

A while back, before Mom died, I went for a visit and she served me the most delicious homemade chicken soup I had ever eaten. (And I come from a large family that included two Polish grandmothers, so that’s saying something!) I asked Mom how she made the soup, and she gave me the recipe and I wrote it down. Actually, it’s more precise to say she gave me some general instructions rather than an actual “recipe,” because in true “Grandma” fashion, the instructions are “you add some of this, a little of that, and as much of that other stuff as you need.” It’s not very precise, but somehow, it’s perfect. I came back from that trip with the secret of how to make the best chicken soup ever, and since then have always had the most tremendous success, making the most delicious chicken soup.

Well…perhaps not “always.” I’ve had a couple of slip-ups. One time the soup was exceptionally cloudy, so I did a little research to see what I might be doing wrong, and quickly discovered it’s important to cook the broth on a low to medium temperature, not high. High temps apparently will make it cloudy. The stock should never come to a boil! Sixty years old, and still learning how to cook!

So, anyway, that was easy enough to correct.

Another time, just recently, my carrots were absolutely tasteless! I had never before eaten carrots that did not taste like carrots, never mind carrots that didn’t taste like anything! All texture, no taste. It was so weird. I saved the soup by adding a few packets of Taco Bell hot sauce to the bowl to spice it up a little, but that was only a quick fix, certainly not an amendment to the original recipe.

After that, I began to wonder if the Soup Gods had turned against me. How could I have gone wrong with the carrots? Eventually I decided it wasn’t me, it was, in fact, the carrots, that maybe they simply weren’t fresh. Won’t be buying that brand of carrots anymore!

But then, just the other day, I made another soup, and if I say so myself…this time I have OUTDONE myself! What a delicious soup! As of today, there’s only one or two more bowls left to be savored, but I’m hoping to duplicate my success on the next try. And here’s what I think went RIGHT this time: yep, I think it was the carrots! Because this time, I used baby carrots! I don’t think I’ve ever used baby carrots in a soup before, and I’ll swear that’s what has made all the difference.

So, now it might be time to amend Mom’s recipe (or instructions…) just a little. I think I’ll add the word “baby” in front of “carrots.”

Just a couple more things I’ve learned about soup: in Mom’s recipe, for some reason, there was no celery. Of course celery is a pretty common ingredient in chicken soup, but for the longest time I kept it out of my soups, because that’s what Mom had instructed. But as I’m thinking about it now, she probably just didn’t have celery at the time when I said “Tell me how you made this soup.” Because since then, I’ve added celery, and it’s just fine.

And now, the final Family Soup Secret: Though not much of a cook, after sixty years I have discovered, mostly through trial and error, that almost ANY food can be improved with a spoonful of brown sugar. But I guess Mom knew that long before I did, because she included it in her instructions. So now, without fail, I always throw a spoonful (or two) of brown sugar into any soup I make, and I swear it makes the soup sweeter and more delicious!

And that is just about everything I know about soup…because, as I say, I’m not really that much of a cook.

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DECAY AND CORRUPTION

I believe that “95% of everything is crud.” Actually, I don’t strictly believe that. What I mean to say is that of all the millions and millions of things that exist in this world, clamoring for my attention, only about 5% of it is truly worth my attention. I don’t even know if that “5%” is a hard and fast figure, but the point is that MOST things in the world are not worth my attention.

It’s OKAY for me to not pay attention to everything that tries to grab my attention. It’s OKAY to be selective regarding the thoughts and things I’m going to allow into my mind and into my life. I’ve been alive long enough now to know what appeals to me and what is edifying… and what does not, and what is not.

It’s OKAY to live in a very small world because really, when you come right down to it, we ALL live in our own very small little worlds. Some people drive themselves crazy trying to make their world bigger by greedily taking in more than any one person in one lifetime expects to consume (FOMO). There is no benefit to such gluttony. It’s OKAY to choose what is BEST, and be content with that.

I believe that the world is constantly becoming more and more corrupt. (Sorry, Gene Roddenberry, love your shows, but your underlying premise is faulty.) I believe the general trend of human nature and the physical world leads to decay and corruption. The wise person will every day fight against decay and corruption wherever it’s found, whether in government or a wrinkle on the face. Every day we are all tasked with fighting decay and corruption in this world, even though we know that ultimately the war will not be won—at least not here on this earth. We can have MINI battle victories—like an Honest Man winning an election, or a walking program contributing to a drop in blood pressure—but in the end, eventually, we will all get sick and die. The challenge is to hold it off for as long as possible, to keep decay and corruption at bay as long as possible. We have been tasked not with WINNING the good fight, but with FIGHTING the good fight.

If we are wise, the one area where we will take advantage of our God-given ability to overcome this trend of decay and corruption is in the growth and development of our OWN spirit. The longer we are alive, the more we see and experience and learn. And the world being what it is (decaying, corruption), the more we experience and learn, the greater our tendency to harden our spirit, to become distrustful and cynical.

It may, in fact, be wise to not necessarily trust a lot of what we experience in this world. Go back to my original premise that “95% of everything is crud.” Crud tends to get cruddier as time goes on. Don’t mess with it! Leave it alone! Find what is good, true, honorable, lovely and worth of praise, and let your mind dwell on those things. It might only be 5%. It might even be less than 5%! No matter. Whatever it is, latch on to what is good and let it nourish your soul.

So the other day on the News they’re talking about plastic guns that anyone can create with a 3D printer. Yes, this is the world we now live in. There’s a real possibility we are moving into a future that will look something like the wild, wild West, where virtually everyone is walking about with an undetectable functioning firearm they can whip out whenever someone cuts them in line at the grocery store, or when the boss doesn’t give the expected pay raise. Undetectable guns in schools, businesses, airplanes, etc. We could be heading for total anarchy.

Or not.

Remember the “Killer Bees”? Years ago, the News tried to scare us with stories of swarms of Killer Bees traveling up from South America and turning our country into a dangerous living hell. It never happened. Not long ago, the Ebola Virus threatened to wipe out half the earth’s population. Before that, AIDS. Before that…you get my point. It’s always something. There’s always some bad thing that might happen, but very often the situation never gets anywhere near as bad as what we’re told to expect.

So, yeah…right now, it’s entirely possible the world is going to hell in a hand basket. On the other hand…maybe not. Yes, it’s possible the US government could slowly (or not so slowly…) be morphed into something more closely resembling Nazi Germany.

Or…maybe not.

The point is: no one has any idea what’s going to happen in the future, and worrying about it doesn’t make it any better. But we all have a responsibility to fight against the decay and corruption we see taking place all around us. That might mean donating to the campaign of an Honest Man, and it definitely means going out to vote for him on Election Day. It means staying aware and not letting yourself get sucked in by the steady decaying drip of nonsense and deception. It means standing up and shouting “I call BS!” when you see BS.

Ultimately though, of course, we are all only responsible for our own actions. Maybe that’s the 5%, or the 1%, or the 1000th of 1% that is most worth our attention. No matter what else is going on in the world, as long as you feel confident that you are doing what is right for yourself and for your world, then…well, maybe that’s all you can do.

I mean, maybe you CAN do more, but that much as least has to be your FOUNDATION. Being right with your God and yourself…that has to be the starting point.

I am right with God. I am right with myself. I vote, I display the campaign yard sign for the Honest Man, and I even contribute to his campaign. I call BS when I see it. I know that 2+2=4, and NOBODY is going to convince me it’s 5. I watch over my soul, and my mind, and try to take care of my body (though admittedly, I could do better at that last one…)

I’ve been alive 60 years. My body is decaying. I try to slow the decay, but in the end, I know, it will give out. However, every day I FIGHT against the BS that tries to bring me down and make my worry about getting shot by a plastic gun yielded by someone who is just as distressed and angry as I am but doesn’t have the self-awareness to come to the conclusion that there is another, better way out of it.

Because there is another way out, and this is the revelation, the epiphany that came to me the other morning, driving to work and listening to the seamless harmonies of Crosby Stills Nash & Young:

Yes, the world sucks. Yes, it is possible we don’t survive this. Yes, it’s possible I’ll be shot by a stranger with a plastic gun for no really good reason. Or die in a nuclear explosion when unstable world leaders go back to hurling insults at each other on Twitter. Or maybe not. Or maybe just…not right away.

But it doesn’t matter, anyway, what maybe happens in some unforeseeable future, because RIGHT NOW I’m living in a world that contains music as beautiful as Crosby Stills Nash and Young singing Carry On; a world where someone had the genius to cast Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes; where you can buy just about anything you need or want with the click of a button. The world I live in also contains adorable kitty cats, chintz, gardenias, funny jokes, and my loving husband. And cashews.

IN THIS MOMENT, I know who I am, I know what I believe, I know that 2+2=4, and in my heart of hearts I know I am right with God, and though the world around me and even my own body are subject to decay and corruption, in my spirit I am determined to FOCUS on the 5% (more or less) that is good, and true, and to follow the Narrow Path that is lined with music, sunshine, perfume, love, flowers, socks, delicious food, kitty cats, coffee, and every beautiful thing that is worthy of my attention.

The end of all things may certainly be on its way, but I will NOT contribute to that decay, and in the meantime, I’m going to ENJOY every good thing that life has to offer.

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TEN THOUGHTS TO KEEP YOUR SPIRITS UP IN THE AGE OF TRUMP

When I started this blog, I said I would not talk about politics. Because these days politics is so divisive. Right? So I have studiously avoided writing about politics, and in the end I’ve found that the end result of not talking about the elephant in the room is that I feel like that elephant is sitting on top of me, crushing me. I have lost my voice, which is especially a shame, considering that my own personal blog is supposed to be a place where I can have my own personal voice.

It’s been an act of self-censorship…and it’s been a failure. And so I have finally peeked my head out of my depressing self-imposed suppression long enough to take a gasp of fresh air and exclaim “Damn it! I will NOT be silenced!” And so I have made a decision: I am “coming out” as Anti-Trump.

As soon as I made that decision, in a “Eureka!” moment it occurred to me that this must be similar to how gay people feel when they finally muster up the courage to “come out of the closet.” Notice I have qualified that statement with “similar,” because I don’t want to in any way suggest that these two situations are of equal gravity. But I feel like what I’ve gone through these past months has given me a slightly better understanding of what it must be like for anyone who lives in fear of rejection and retribution due to their deeply-held beliefs and convictions.

I could go on and on about my beliefs and convictions, but for right now I just want to engage in a completely positive moment by posting this list of things to remember whenever it seems the country has lost its mind, the world has spun off its access, we’re living in “The Upside Down” and nothing makes sense anymore. These are just some calming thoughts for anyone who feels, like I do, that what we’re going through right now is not normal and not acceptable.

So. Here we go. Dear friend, if you long, like I do, for a return to a more sane, more pleasant, and less chaotic world than the one we currently live in, then please remember:

1. Trump is not forever. One day he will be out of office, and odds are that whoever replaces him will be better. Of course, it’s possible his successor COULD be worse, but things being what they are, that’s only possible, not probable. The odds are with us.

2. You are not alone. A majority of Americans still agree that Trump is a bad idea. That may change, but no matter what happens, it’s unlikely there will ever come a time when everyone in the country is completely sucked in by Trump’s exhausting theatrics. There will always be, at the very least, a Resistance. Vive la Resistance!

3. The Free Press is still FREE. At least for the moment. Thank God for the Free Press, or who knows where we might be at this point.

4. Robert Mueller is diligently at work and will not be distracted. He is smart, methodical, unflappable, and right now we only know a fraction of what he knows. There are numerous ways our country can dig its way out of this hellhole, and the Russia Investigation is one that could very well be the beginning of the end for the Trump administration. (And by the way, even if he is fired, the work will most likely still go on, both on the Federal and State level.)

5. Primaries are here! As more and more Primaries are decided, it’s increasingly possible Republican candidates will “run to the middle” for the General Election. Some may even grow a backbone and finally stand up for the Rule of Law, the Constitution, and what is right and humane. As many of them used to, before Trump somehow hypnotized them into forgetting so many basic human values and instincts.

6. Midterm elections are now only six months away. If midterms go the way they are predicted, (i.e. if Russia doesn’t interfere with our elections again, at least not too much), a new Democratic Congress could hold Trump in check, and might even be in a position to start impeachment proceedings.

7. Being invisible has its advantages. For those of us who are lucky enough to be as invisible as Russ and I are (white, straight, middle-class citizens of deep red Alabama), we are among the least likely to experience any personal hardship from Trump’s policies. Now that doesn’t give us a free pass to sit back on our butts (Remember: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out…”) but it does give us invisible folks a little breathing room, the opportunity to go to bed at night feeling reasonably certain that tomorrow is not going to bring some new threat to our personal freedoms.

8. There are actually some things you can DO! You are not completely helpless. First of all, and most obviously, you can VOTE in the midterm elections. You can financially support good candidates, canvass for them if that’s your style, or at the very least plant a campaign sign in your front yard. Oh, and one more thing, and perhaps most important of all: you can pray for the health of our country.

9. Every day, remind yourself that Life is more than politics. The dizzying pace of news headlines these days is completely exhausting. But it is in fact possible, and indeed highly advisable, to take a break now and then from looking at the news. Remember there was a time when you never looked at the news, had no idea what was going on in the world, and you were completely happy. I’m not suggesting we hide our heads in the sand, but it is within your power to limit and select and discipline yourself in regards to how crazy you let trump make you. If something really big happens…believe me, the rest of the world will surely let you know.

10. And finally, if all else fails, if by some strange and horrible trick of fate Trump gets elected for another term, remember this: CANADA is only a car drive away! I’ve already checked into this. Victoria and Vancouver are lovely places where the weather does not get too cold, and though it is significantly more expensive to live there than in Alabama, relocating would not be impossible. I don’t want to have to take it to this extreme, but sometimes, when I succumb to the depression of realizing how very “not normal” this all is, I see Canada as the pinprick of light at the end of a very long dark tunnel.

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A TRIBUTE TO MOM

On my previous website, I’d gotten into the habit of writing a tribute whenever someone significant in my life died. I guess it was a way for me to remember them, and also mark the end of an era.

My mother died last year on January 3rd, and even though on one level I felt I should write something about her, at the time, I simply couldn’t. As time went on, I felt more able and began to put together what I would want to say, but somehow the timing never seemed right. Now it’s been a year, and I’ve found my voice, and the time is right. So, I’ll say a few words.

And a few words is really all I have to say. But not because Mom didn’t mean anything to me! More because when you look at her life, and think about her place in the world, it’s so easy to realize that what needs to be said about her can be said very simply.

She was a good person.

She loved her family.

She has gone to Heaven to be with God and Jesus.

That’s really all you need to know. Mom never did anything “great” as far as the world is concerned. No books, no movies, no scientific achievements. She loved her family and raised her kids. To her, the very most important thing in all the world was Family. That was her life. She was happiest when her children or grandchildren came to visit, or when getting together with her sisters. For her, it was all about other people.

I don’t think she ever wished harm on anyone. One of her favorite sayings was “You can’t go wrong doing right.” She always looked for the best in every situation. Her worldview was not complicated, and it was rooted in a belief in God.

As time goes on in this new journal I will probably have opportunity to tell many stories of my childhood, many of them involving my mom. But right now I want to mention two things in particular:

One of my fondest memories of Mom was a night probably in 1973, when we first moved to Florida. I would have been a teenager, maybe 15 or 16. Somehow, Mom and I started talking one night, about all kinds of things that were important to us, things we believed, that defined who we were. It was the kind of conversation most commonly had between best friends. We stayed up very late that night, talking and talking. I don’t really remember a lot of the content, but I’m sure it was personal and spiritual. I think we did not go to bed until two or three in the morning. I’ll always remember thatas one of the times I felt closest to my Mom.

Another time, probably shortly after that, Mom and I had started going to a little Christian church and decided to be baptized. Our family was Catholic, so of course everyone had been baptized as babies, but as brand new born-again Christians, we both wanted to express our faith through adult baptism. The little church we were going to was really strong on adult baptism, but as I mentioned, it was small, and didn’t have the facilities for full-immersion baptism. So Mom and I had to travel to a “sister church” in the next town over and met our pastor there. We both got the full dunking baptism. It was just me, Mom, and the pastor. But that was enough. It was official. Nothing signifies a connection between two people as much as an act of agreement about your spiritual beliefs.

In everybody’s life there are good times and bad. Mom’s life included. But my main impressions of her, the things I will always remember most of all, when all is said and done, is what I said here at the top: she was a good person, she loved her family, and she’s now in Heaven.

For me, Heaven has always been this place where God is, where Jesus is, but as my life goes on and I see more and more of the people I love dying in this world and going to the next, my concept of Heaven, of the afterlife, is expanding. That is where I shall once again see Mom and all the others who have gone ahead of me. (I don’t fear dying. In fact, I look forward to it! I just don’t want to do it too soon…) But nowadays I am starting to feel as if I’m living my life with one foot in this world, and one foot in the next. Heaven is not only where I finally get to meet Jesus face to face, but it’s also the place where I meet my loved ones again. Including Mom.

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NEW YEAR

So today is January 1, 2018, and I feel like I should do a year-end review of 2017 and make plans for 2018. But somehow my heart isn’t in it. I guess I’ve spent too many years doing reviews and making and plans, and in the end I know that basically it doesn’t do a whole lot of good. New Year’s Resolutions are almost never kept, so why bother?

I recently heard that President Obama said something along the lines of he only tries to make sure each day is a little better than the day before. I like that. Just always be moving along in a positive direction. Don’t get too specific, because there’s no telling what any day might bring. But “resolve” (if you must have a “resolution”) to always be moving in a positive direction.

Now, as for review, I will say this much: last year Mom died, so that goes in “Minus” column, but as a result, I went and visited Dad five times during 2017, which goes in the “Plus” column. I don’t think I’ll make quite as many trips in 2018, but I’m glad I got to do what I did in 2017.

Last year I continued improving my health and losing weight, so that all goes in the “Plus” column, and obviously I hope to continue that trend, but I’m not going to obsess about it or set any specific goals about so many pounds lost in so much time. I just want to keep on improving my healthy habits every day (or, at least, almost every day), so that overall I’m moving in the right direction.

I have a few other ideas, but I don’t want to take the time to talk about them now, because today is going to be a busy day with guests and food and football, and I’m anxious to get started on all that!

Happy New Year!

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