Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Family Embrace

This morning, Mike did his usual thing of picking up Seth and carrying him around and petting him. Seth has come to expect that and when Mike is in a hurry, Seth will pace in front of him crying for what we call Pick-Me-Up time. As usual, Mike carried Seth like a football, if a football reached out and put his front paws around Mike's wrist in a hug. Nick and I gathered around them so Seth received love with five hands, six if you count the football clutch.

"Petting, petting, petting," Nick said in a robot voice.

"Too. Much. Petting," Mike said.

I put my hands on Seth without petting him so it wasn't really too much petting. Seth loved when we gathered around him in this family embrace. I used the time to pat Nick on his shoulder and back too. I didn't like bugging a seventeen-year-old for hugs, but he and I both needed the contact. I just had to try to be cool about it. It was almost impossible for me to be cool, but Pick-Me-Up was the perfect time and Nick didn't pull away.

Blitz paced back and forth around us, crying.

What the heck? Blitz hated being picked up, except when it was time for him to eat. I'd been picking him up to hug him and he almost always groaned as I tucked my arm under his butt the way Mike did with Seth. Blitz wouldn't let me roll him over and cradle him like a baby. There was a whole lot of wrestling and clawing going on when I tried to cradle him, so I usually tucked him in like a football. Still, he groaned, accepted it, then wrestled with me to get down when I hugged him too long.

This morning though, Blitz paced and cried.

That cat was so incredibly worried about getting fair treatment, even treatment that he didn't like, especially when he could see Seth reveling in it. Pick me up into the family embrace.

So, I picked him up and tucked him under my arm. Then, while Mike still held and petted Seth, I stood with Blitz and Nick turned to pet him too. The family embrace. This was what we did. Blitz grew up thinking this was how cats were supposed to be treated. I think Blitz would be surprised about how different life might be in another family.

I always thought that fitting in was such a human thing or maybe a dog thing, you know, pack mentality. But I never thought it went further than that.

I was wrong. After watching Blitz, I realized that animals worked to fit in, to do what everybody else was doing. It wouldn't surprise me now, after the Blitz lesson, if you told me that all animals worked to fit in, to do what everyone around them were doing, just so they could feel the family embrace. Their survival might depend on it or maybe it was love. How was I to know?

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

If Your Teachers Were Comedians

I have an interview today for a part-time job that I've been doing for two years now.

Can you believe that I'm nervous?

I volunteer at the school, working with students to help them write. With one guy, I simply used Natalie Goldberg's advice for freewriting to break his writer's block. That's all it took before he didn't need me any more. I worked with that same guy for two years, but the best thing I did for him was to repeat what I said on that first day. Keep your hands moving on the keyboard. Don't correct anything yet. Stay focused for as long as you can and each time you break, take note of how long you kept up the good focus. Then, for subsequent freewrites, try to extend it just a little bit longer until you can write continuously for twenty minutes at a time without stopping. Then, if you have a shitty first draft according to Anne Lamott's good advice, you can run through it word by word and clean it up.

I'm doing a freewrite now. Can you tell?

I do it all the time, sit down and write until I know what it is that I want to say. I hardly ever know what I want to tell you when I sit down to a blank screen. I just keep writing until something pops up. Today, it's a way for me to think about that interview and what I would do differently with students if they let me.

I'm writing about writing again. Do you mind? Wouldn't you rather I write about kittens or dogs playing games? Wouldn't you rather hear something funny?

Me too. I'd rather, but today I have an interview and I'm trying to prepare for it. What if they ask me what my weaknesses are?

I get distracted. I'm not serious enough, but the high school students generally like that even if the staff doesn't. I don't often use the words gerund, preposition, pronoun, conjunction with a student when we're talking about their writing.

Conjunction junction. What's your function?

Are you old enough to remember that?

You know, I'm not sure if there's a deep benefit to learning much besides noun, verb, adjective. I tell my students to read their work aloud, that their minds know when the grammar is correct. Then we talk about 'ain't.' I like to use the word 'vernacular' with them. I get to try my Indiana twang on then.

"Y'all ain't gonna let me ride shotgun, ain't ya?" I say with my best hometown dialect. And any of my students will invariably agree with me that this is not correct grammar. I tell them it's great to use in dialog if they can.

Then, if I'm really on it, I pull out an English accent and say, "But you would most likely smash up the lorry if you were to ride where you might be seen wearing that bloody ugly jumper.'

Then, suddenly they know what 'vernacular' means and I can work them through hearing the grammar, correct and vernacular. Then we can talk about our narrator. Sometimes a whole book is written in the vernacular, I tell them, but they'd better be careful using that for an English teacher. It had better be done in a way that their teachers know it's intentional and not an unfortunate accident that will leave them with a C or a D in class.

You know, I honestly think that the school system should hire smart stand-up comics as teachers. Can you imagine taking that class as you're getting your Masters Degree in Education? Getting and Keeping Students' Attention 101. How to Engage your Reluctant Student through Humor 102.

When you go listen to a stand-up comic, you never look away if she's funny. It doesn't matter if she's talking about how her mother goes on and on about gout while unloading Depends and Exlax chocolate from a grocery bag on a hot day. You're not going to look away. Even though there's just a woman, a microphone, and a footstool hosting a glass of water on the stage. You're not going to look away because you might miss something she does with her face up there. You'd hate it if everybody laughed and you missed it.

Yes, I really believe that that teachers should be able to entertain their students. I think that humor is a challenging but engaging art form. I think that it should be encouraged, that kids making presentations should be told that being funny will keep all eyes and ears on them while they are trying to make a point.

I don't think I should say that in my interview at the school today, do you?

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Running with the Dogs

Teddy has been really sad during all this kitten stuff. Why is he sitting here waiting to go to the park? Why isn't he the star of the show instead of the ratty little kitten who's afraid of everything?

Teddy's really cute when he sits on top of three blankets and two pillows on the cold leather couch. Teddy's adorable at the dog park when he gets three puppies to grab onto his stick all at the same time. Teddy's awesome when he sees the girl's cross-country team run through the park and he wants to join the girls cross-country team and run with them every day. Teddy loves girls.

Teddy is probably right. He would make a really good dog for a book.

Actually, Teddy was born to be in the movies instead of a book. He's completely photogenic. I get a lot of attention being the ordinary woman who brings him to the park.

"What breed is she?" a girl will ask.

"He's a mix, a shelter dog," I reply.

"Sorry, he. He's so pretty, he looks like a girl. No way, he's a shelter dog? He looks like one of those Korean dogs, a jindo?"

"Nope. Sorry. His mother was an Australian shepherd mix."

"He looks just like a jindo."

Her face isn't as friendly now. Did I hold the line too long?

"Well, you never know," I say, just trying to be nice. I'm not willing to pay $75 to find out what his DNA says he is, but I'd almost guarantee there isn't a bit of jindo in him. How often do you see lab mixes at the park?

And how often do you see jindos?

I had to google 'white korean dog' to even remember what the breed name was. No, the odds are pretty low that Teddy is a jindo mix. Pretty damned low. Most of the dogs out there ranging around and impregnating other dogs are either pit bull or lab mixes. Now and then, you get husky mutt puppies, but not jindos. People with jindos aren't letting them range around the neighborhood, impregnating female dogs.

But what 's the point of arguing with people? It doesn't change their minds. I can feel in the conversation when it begins to make them mad. I don't go past that point. I don't want to be that woman who alienates everyone at the dog park. And then the next time Teddy shows up, these same people don't want to pet him because I was the crabby old woman who told them they were idiots.

No, I want Teddy to be well-loved at the park. So, I nod my head and ask her questions about her dog. I want people to talk to me while we watch Teddy lope along with the other dogs, leaping neatly over a dog who stops abruptly.

So yeah, maybe I will tell you more stories about Teddy. He's quite an unusual dog, even if he doesn't have a drop of jindo blood in his veins.

Later though. Right now, I have to take him to the park so he can run with the dogs.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Flying or Riding the Wave

Now and then, I dream I can fly.

It's never easy in those dreams. The best I can do is fly to the treetops and that is with great effort. When I fly, I am a great bird with small wings, never intended for much besides hopping leaps. I'm a turkey, working with every muscle of my body, every single muscle to get off the ground. I wake up sore when I dream I can fly. I'll lie in bed, barely removed from the dream of flight, sweating like a runner.

I feel like that now.

I promised myself that I wouldn't write about writing here, but it's hard not to. I published two books this fall. Marketing my books is complicated and I don't fly easily. I have to work very hard to get into the air. Writing is easy, but marketing is hard. Getting my books airborne takes every bit of muscle in my body and quite a bit of air from my lungs. After readings, I feel as though I've worked out. I'm pretty good at public speaking. I get my audiences to sing then the rest just flows out of me. But it's not just talking in front of people. It's sending queries and press releases and entering contests of dubious value. I want to go back to writing. Writing is more like letting water flow around your knees. It makes me a little wobbly until I let it float me up. I can float forever.

Today, I wondered why I never dream I swim the oceans, the rivers, the lakes. Water is my forte. Ah, yes. I have dreamed I flowed down a river. It was invigorating, crashing, dodging rocks, rolling out of the holes and down the chutes.

I am a sucker for a book with water on the cover. I assume I can swim in those words. Or drown. On Instagram, I follow a photographer of water, Andrew Semark. Just go look at his waves for a little while, just sit with them. Put them on a big screen. Buy prints for your walls. (No, this isn't an advertisement. He has no idea how much I love his photos.) Feel the power and the softness in his waves. I could drown in that softness. I could feel that power.

Water is resolute. If it needs to move, it will move no matter what's in its way, slip through your fingers, fling down trees, carve cliffs, pull a swimmer out to sea. One drop at a time, water changes everything.

"Never underestimate the power of water," Mike once said to the news crew when they interviewed him after a flood dug a twelve foot ditch and piled gravel on the highway six feet thick. I've felt that power. I felt it grab at my ankles as we piled sandbags around that new ditch to save a house and a garage. That water was going to flow. We were lucky we could guide it away from the house. That water rolled concrete blocks down onto the highway. It took three days for the department of transportation to move the pile of rocks after the flood. Never underestimate the water.

Yet, when I'm in the water, I feel so free. My parents called me a waterbug when I was little, a fish. When I was six and saw the ocean for the first time, a wave slapped me out of my father's hands and swirled me back onto the beach. I loved that honest wave. That feeling never left me. Even at fifty-seven, put me into a bathing suit in the water, and I can glide, dive, leap out of the water, and dive back down until I feel the pressure of the water on my eardrums. I am a child again in waves, a leaf in a current, and always that kid with wet shoes after a walk.

Maybe I shouldn't try to fly with my books. Maybe I need to dive deep and swim with them. Maybe I need to find the other fish, dolphins, whales, and urchins instead of trying to connect with birds and stars.

What do you think? Are you a bird flying or a creature of the sea?

I can tell it's past time for me to go to sleep. Dreamy or ridiculous. I can't tell which. But tonight, I want to dream of the depths, to crash into the air then dive back down into the blue, to slap my tail on the surface, to spiral, to flip and roll. I want to feel the softness, the resolution of the water on my soul. I want the water to carry me out, to pull me inexorably along the length of the coast.

I want to ride that wave.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Song in Your Ear

I have a cold. I know I'm not going to die with this cold, but I feel pretty miserable. When I sleep with a cold, it's more frightening that it usually is. I have bad dreams when I sleep with a cold.

Earlier, I started to fall asleep early in the afternoon, right at the beginning of Blitz's nap time. As I walked down to my bed where I knew I'd sleep better than on the couch, Blitz ran ahead of me. I'm sure he hoped for tuna flakes.

'Tuna flakes in the morning.
Tuna flakes at night.
Tuna flakes in the afternoon.
Look at my sweet face,
not at my little belly.
Ignore my little belly.
I'm a little fluffy.
I'm cute and starving to death.
Tuna flakes in the afternoon.'

I could almost hear Blitz singing. Do you remember those songs you used to make up when you were a kid, the ones about Snickers and Coke, the ones that weaved in and out of 'I am stuck on BandAids 'cause BandAids stuck on me' and 'My bologna has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R' and 'Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more, the Bloody Red Baron changed the score.' Yeah, those songs. Even when I'm ninety-three, those songs will run through my head. If I forget my dignity and sing them out loud, I will annoy the nurses. Those songs are intended to get stuck in your brain and never come out like a parasite that grows too intertwined with your lungs and your veins that it can never be excised.

Blitz sang one of those songs. I'm sure of it. I'm glad the catchy little tune hasn't gotten into my ear. I'd be singing that when I was ninety-three too. The nurses will speak with my grandchildren of dementia but I know the truth. They will be parasites, those songs.

I shuffled into my room and got into bed. I set the TV to a movie I'd seen a million times so I could sleep right through it without being drawn in. Pride and Prejudice, Keira Knightly's version. Blitz jumped up onto the bed and laid down on his pillow. I rolled over so I could pet him to thank him for coming into bed with me. He didn't sleep with me at night any more and I missed that.

The hard part with falling asleep is that it's hard to keep your hands from relaxing and falling away from something you're stretched out to touch, even a soft little kitty.

I tried to keep my fingers in his fur. I really did, but as I slipped into the cloud between awake and asleep, I could feel my hands relaxing and falling away from Blitz. I was sad. I liked feeling him touching me.

Just as I was about to snap down into the bubble of sleep, I felt a movement, a warm paw. His paw came across my fingers to remind me he was with me.

'I'm here with you,
while you sleep
sick little Mama,
I'm here with you,
while you sleep.'

I could almost hear a song. He shifted and fur enveloped my hands, soft fur warming my hands as I slid into the void. Some things stay with you while you visit the void, a soft touch, and the feel of someone purring a song in your ear. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Good Reason to Keep Weapons Out of the Living Room

Blitz still played with dog kibbles. I heard him in the kitchen , rattling a kibble back and forth. If it were a jingly ball or a krinkly one, I'd have been amused, even when they got lost under the stove. But they, being food, felt different when they get lost under the stove.

Mike turned to me and raised an eyebrow.

So, when I finally relaxed next to Mike on the couch, when my work day was finally over, when I was tired and I'd earned a rest, I got annoyed when I heard that little kibble preparing to get lost under the stove.

There were a couple of places where kibbles got lost in my kitchen: under the stove, under a microwave cart that didn't have a microwave on it, and in a narrow place between the fridge and the dishwasher. The fridge was just low enough there, that the kibbles got wedged and I had to take a butter knife to dig it out and that thing always came out with dog and cat hair stuck to it. I knew things got sterilized in the dishwasher, but I wondered, 'what if it didn't and I ended up eating that shit?'

If I ate that shit, I'd probably have gotten a better immune system. It turned out that all that antibacterial soap was bad for our immune systems. It was funny how doctors told you to wash your hands during flu season, but turned around and told you to stop using the antibacterial soap. And the bathrooms at the doctor's offices still used antibacterial soap.

So, I didn't like when I had to dig those little kibbles out from under the edge of the fridge with a butter knife.

And the microwave cart. That thing was big, loaded, and hard to move, but I still had to vacuum under there periodically. Dust bunnies.

Because of Blitz, it got dust bunnies and dog kibbles. And my vacuum sounded like it was breaking whenever one of those things got sucked up and spun around for a while. What would twenty of them actually do to my vacuum?

Did I ever tell you I loved my vacuum cleaner. It was a Shark. Seriously, it was a good design. I could vacuum corners, ceiling, and the main part of the carpet as I went along. I just wished it had a lower center of gravity so it didn't fall on my foot when I took the wand out and stretched up to catch cobwebs from the skylight. That was it's only flaw. The rest, the little fur spinner, the way it was so easy to empty, engineering at its finest.

No, that was not a commercial. I'd been working on getting paid for the work that I did. I'd have liked to get paid. I was going to get paid for my volunteering soon, but the tenor of the work was already changing. Don't you hate when that happens?

So, I was telling you about the dog kibbles under the microwave cart. Since I'm afraid of the nasty sound my vacuum makes when I vacuum up those things, I have to stop the vacuum and lean over to pick the hunks of fur, dust buffaloes, and dog kibbles. It really sours my appreciation for the dog kibbles.

Teddy ate Hills I/D diet. The cool thing about I/D was that when I opened the bag, it smelled like an Arby's roast beef sandwich. I kid you not. I'd never tasted one of the kibbles, but that smell was so much better than the vomit looking and fishy smelling stuff I spooned out for the cats. It made feeding him much nicer.

The problem was that the furry ones under the microwave cart didn't smell like that any more. And they were furry and gross. Plus, I was always tempted to pick out the fur and make Teddy eat them anyway. Was that so awful? Sometimes I did and sometimes I didn't. I never said I was consistent.

And cleaning out under the stove?

That took a broom, time on my knees, my aching knees, and a headlamp. I really hated what I found when I cleaned out the space under my stove. I wouldn't have had to do it nearly as often if not for Blitz. Remember Blitz?

So, imagine all those jobs, the furry butter knife, the rattling vacuum cleaner, and the aching knees, when I finally relaxed on the couch to an episode or two of Breaking Bad with Mike and I heard one of those kibbles being batted around in the kitchen.

Yeah, it was a good thing there were no weapons in my living room.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Warning Cry

You know, we're cruising along here. The kitten is a cat. The dog finally got his own minion, the kitten-cat. Last week, we had to tell Teddy he wasn't allowed to chase Blitz out of the living room. Since then, Blitz has gotten much more relaxed around us in the living room. He lounges on the couch. He lounges in the recliner. He sits in laps, my lap mostly.

But we still may have a problem. Seth may be having some moments of dementia.

The other day, Seth walked down the stairs and stood at the bottom and cried. This was the loud kind of crying, like when I accidentally burned turkey burgers on the stove and Seth felt the need to warn me the house was burning down as I rushed around trying to open windows and clear smoke. Mike was pissed about that one. We had to wash the walls and cabinets in the kitchen to get the black out. Let's just say that I do a whole lot better when I don't eat sugar. Sugar is not my friend. My mind goes completely haywire when I eat sugar. No sugar. None.

But Seth's crying was loud like that, a foghorn warning, sirens screaming, coyotes hunting. He had water. He had food. His litter box wasn't too far gone with kitten poop.

Who knew what it was?

"Seth honey, come on up stairs. Here kitty, kitty. Come on up," I shouted down the stairs.

And he came upstairs, looked at me on the couch, leaped into my lap, and stood there as if trying to find his dignity.

We may be in for some days with Seth. I'll let you know.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Truly Feral


I didn't die. I'm really here. I've just been on vacation, right?

Nope. No vacation.

I wrote a kitten book and I just finished it yesterday and sent it off. I have to apologize to all eight of you readers because even if you might be interested in reading a book about a feral kitten coming home, you've read almost all of it here. I hate reading a book and getting half way through and realizing that I've already read it. Don't you?

As I sit here, Blitz is running back and forth in the kitchen while playing with one of Teddy's dog kibbles. It will most likely get stuck under the stove and make my vacuum cleaner sound like it's breaking when I suck it up.

The little dirt bag.

Here's the thing that didn't make it into the book.

My mother called the other day. She's pretty healthy and all, but she has gout. I hope to God I never get gout because when I do, I'll begin every conversation with normal humans with, "I've got this pain."

Honestly, now that my joints are starting to feel crunchy, I'm beginning to understand why so many old people go on and on and on. And fucking on about their aches and pains.

"You don't know pain until you've had gout," she told me.

I resisted the urge to talk about the time I was in the hospital and the X-ray technicians needed me to stand upright for the myelogram and I kept passing out because my broken back was lighting up a whole bunch of nerve pathways at one time, hot, cold, cut, punctured, burned, and abraded all at one time.

I hate when people tell me I don't know pain.

But it wouldn't have made her feel any better about her pain if I'd argued that I did know pain. It would just make her feel like nobody was listening to her own pain. We humans really suck at listening, me especially.

So, I tried to listen and tried not to imagine too carefully what gout felt like. See, I hate seeing those 'funny' videos in which some poor slob does a face plant scorpion slide across concrete because I feel actual pain when I do.

Maybe that's why humans are terrible at listening to our parents complain about pain, because we can feel some of that pain. I tried to change the subject from gout.

"I wrote a book about my cats, Ma," I said.

"That's nice, Dear," she said.

Apparently, she can't comprehend the time and energy involved in writing a book, even one about cats. So, I let her go back to the gout and the way she couldn't walk for a few days and the doctor said, and she said, and the gout isn't gone yet, but feels a little less like an icepick was driven through her foot.

"How is your kitten?" she asked.

Wow. I'd settled in for the long haul and I'd reached the end of the trail about a half hour before I thought I would.

"He's funny. He likes to tuck a dog kibble under the kitchen rug then worm under it with his head and shoulders. It's a wonder I haven't stepped on him while I cook."

And I went on and on about my kitten. And on.

Finally, I caught myself. See, I'm the age that most women are becoming grandmothers. Nick is way too young for that, so I've satisfied that need by treating two cats and a dog as if they are babies.

It wouldn't surprise me if my friends laugh about that when I'm not around. I wouldn't mind. It would be true. Better that than to nag an eighteen year old boy about when he's going to give me grandchildren. That is never going to be fodder for the dinner conversation. It sucks to be on the receiving end of that question.

So, I managed to quell my grandmotherly instincts and ask my mother about her cat.

"Oh, Baby is doing just fine."

Baby is not a good name for any pet. It's just embarrassing. Baby.

Can you imagine going to the sliding glass door, opening it, and yelling, "Baby! Come here, Baby! Baaabeeeee?"


"Baby is beginning to get old. She's fourteen."

I thought I remembered that she got her cat just a few months before I got mine so that would make Baby twelve, thirteen at most. But these kind of conversations were futile unless you were trying to ascertain levels of dementia. I was not. If my mother was going senile, I didn't want to know about it yet. She had begun to change long-standing family stories, but I figured she was entitled to that. I had no intention of worrying until she seemed to forget something important. When I'm eighty-five, I want to be able to change my stories too. I don't want some young punk telling me I remembered it wrong.

I'd phased out of the conversation for a bit.Thankfully, my mother was still talking about Baby. She was more of an indoor cat than she had been. She still didn't like anyone but my mother. She disappeared every time anyone came to the house. My mother told the whole story about how Baby came to her door when she was a kitten, a cold and starving feral kitten that was already more than half grown. I had heard this story. I knew that part was true. I'd only ever petted Baby twice, both times when I'd opened the door after everyone left my mother's house, both times when I'd been completely silent and had a bowl of food in my hands ready for her. Baby was almost completely feral. The only other person she liked was her veterinarian, the traveling vet who had examined my grandma's cat Buddy before he traveled to my house. But Baby was more than skittish. Baby was a one woman cat.

"Baby spends more time on my lap and now she sleeps with me at night," my mother said. She went on about her Baby. I guess I'm not the only one who wanted grandkids, or rather great-grandkids. Then she said that Baby also asked to be let out to the garage when she needed to use her litter box.

"Seriously? She asks to be let out?" 

Imagine not letting a cat have her litter box in the house because it was too messy. Yuck.

Then, she dropped the bomb.

"Who knows which of us is going to live longer, me or Baby. I really don't know what I'm going to do with Baby after I die."

And then, she let the conversation hang. I hated when she let the conversation hang. I resisted the urge to tell her that she wasn't going to be able to do anything when she died. Really, it was so tempting when she was angling to get me to agree to something.

"We can take her if you need us to. I'm sure she would be okay here."

I wasn't sure she'd be okay here. I had no idea if she'd be okay here. At least with my grandma's cat, Buddy, he'd let me pet him and brush him. Buddy had always liked me even when he didn't like anyone else. He'd liked Nick. Nick was the only great-grandkid that Buddy had let pet him. That made it easy.

But I told my mother that we'd take care of her, that she didn't have to worry, that we had room for one more cat even though she informed me that Baby hated male cats and dogs. We had two male cats and a dog. That was going to be so fucked if it happened.

Eventually, my mother had to get off the phone to go to her quilting meeting. Mike wandered into the kitchen where I still sat on the footstool. A lot of times, I sat on that footstool while I had conversations with my extended family.

"So, my mother made me promise to take her cat, Baby, if she died."

"Oh man, I've never even seen that cat in eleven years it's so wild."

"Yeah, and she hates male cats and dogs too. And she goes outdoors whenever she wants."

"You're going to have to bring her here? Really?"

"Yup," I said. "I am. I promised."

Mike didn't say another word, just shook his head and made himself a ham and cheddar sandwich.

Then, as he walked out of the kitchen with his sandwich in hand, he said, "You had better pray that your mom lives a nice long life. That cat would be absolutely miserable here. You know that, right?"

I know that.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Feline Exercise Routine

I found a sad little Fourth of July pom-pom in a drawer today while I was looking for something else. We originally found it in the grass at the end of a fireworks show when Nick was five or so. We hadn't been generous enough to buy him one of those doodads that spun and thrashed tentacles and made an annoying whining noise. Some kid had lost her Fourth of July pom-pom. Nick picked it up, swatted Mike's leg, and wanted to know if he could keep it. He waved it around experimentally. He loved the Fourth of July pom-pom, he said, a Harry Potter wand, he said. Trying not to think about the transmission of germs or the fact that a dog could have peed on the Fourth of July pom-pom as it lay in the grass, we said okay. Mike took it from Nick, sniffed it, and handed it back. Smelled okay.

On the walk to the car, my legs were lashed with that Fourth of July pom-pom until I threatened to take it away. Nick clutched it in his fist. On the drive home, it repeatedly splashed my face as I sat next to him until the hour and the rhythm of the car caught up with him and he fell asleep.

At home, that toy was left on the living room floor and shoved into the bottom of the toy box, but it got new life one day when it came out of the toy box and Seth, then a kitten, heard the swishy-swishy sound of the strands of tinsel. When Nick held it in the air above Seth's head, he leaped, twisted, grabbed, and rolled about on the floor in paroxysms of ecstasy.  He loved the Fourth of July pom-pom. The problem was that whenever anyone left it on the floor, he would lie on top of it with his paws guarding the fluff like a kid holding a whole bag of Cheetos and he would chew on the pathetic tuft of tinsel that spewed from one end. It became his favorite forbidden toy.

Seth eats tinsel. He eats garland made of tinsel. He eats Easter Grass because it looks like tinsel and he eats Nerf bullets and anything made out of Nerf bullet material. I'm not sure why he eats these things, but a few years ago, there was a moratorium on tinsel and plastic Easter grass plus Nick and his friends were instructed to scour the house for Nerf bullets immediately after any Nerf war they had because of the effect on the litter box. The litter box by itself is bad enough but when there were hunks of tinsel or Nerf bullets wrapped in shit, I gagged a little while I was doing my work of cleaning it.

There was also the time I chased Seth around the house because from his butt, he dragged a strand of poop pearls clinging to a length of tinsel. I eventually caught him, but not before those turds had bounced across carpet, kitchen vinyl, the couch, the pillow on the couch, and even the coffee table.

Eventually, I used a pair of scissors to clip that tinsel instead of pulling it. My vet told me that if I pulled it, Seth's intestines could be gathered up at the back of his butt, get crimped, and kill him. No pulling the tinsel. Got it.

For years, we played with Seth and that ratty little Fourth of July pom-pom. When Nick played with Seth too hard and its plastic handle bent, I inserted a straw inside to straighten it. After playing, getting Seth onto his back, wrestling with the Fourth of July pom-pom, I carefully tucked it out of sight on top of my grandma's china cabinet where Seth couldn't find it and Nick wouldn't forget and leave it lying on the floor to be chewed on and swallowed in strands. Eventually, Nick got tall enough to pull it out to play with Seth for a bit and tuck it back in when he was done. And after a couple more years, we practically forgot about the old Fourth of July pom-pom.

When I first set up the downstairs bathroom for Blitz's arrival, I pulled out the abandoned Fourth of July pom-pom and tucked it into a drawer. It might be good for a middle-of-the-night romp. What kitten wouldn't love a ratty Fourth of July pom-pom with a straw reinforcing it's bent handle and some of the tinsel chewed off?

There it stayed for the better part of a year until just today, when I went looking for something in that downstairs bathroom drawer.

Sure enough, Blitz loved it, leaped, twisted, grabbed, and lay on the floor in paroxysms of ecstasy. Then Seth, after watching the fun for a bit, jumped in and grabbed the ratty, broken, Fourth of July pom-pom with some of the tinsel chewed off. You're never too old to play.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, September 29, 2017


Yesterday morning sometime after 3:57, an avalanche of things crashed to the floor. It seemed to stop then more clattered down.

Fuck, I thought.

I had woken up about a half hour earlier when Blitz started playing with a rock. I was so tired, I tried to figure out how to go back to sleep despite the clacking on the laminate floor. I was too tired to squirt him with the water bottle. Too tired to get up and take his clackety rock away. This is one reason I prefer carpet. It's quieter.

I did go back to sleep.

Then, a cat jumped onto the bed and walked the length of my legs. I don't know which one. Does it matter? By then, it was 3:56 in the morning. My vision is bad, but I have a big-screen alarm clock. Fucking 3:56. I squinted. 3:57 a.m. I know the cats know how to get onto the bed without waking me. I know they know where my body is under the covers. Some mornings, I wake up with my hand on a cat and I have no idea how either the cat or my hand got there without my knowing it. This walking the length of my body has always been a ploy to wake me up.

Like Simon's cat. You've watched Simon's cat, right? 

I'd been tricked into giving the cats flaked tuna at night before bed. Oh, it's fun to leave the room at night and have the whole fur family walk with me to the bedroom. I am so popular, I think. It's just the flaked tuna, Mike told me one night. I still liked being popular.

Then, the other morning, Seth, looking scrawny and sad, convinced me that some flaked tuna in the morning was a good idea. Put some meat on your bones, I thought, and gave him a pinch on a little pile of kitten food. Suddenly, I was popular again and Blitz was nosing Seth out of his own bowl. Tuna flakes for everyone, I thought happily.

Bad idea.

After one morning of tuna flake training, I was elevated to next-level tuna flake training. Wake up earlier for tuna flakes. For a few days, I couldn't figure out why I was so exhausted, why I kept waking up a half hour before my alarm, then forty-five minutes, then an hour. My ass was dragging. Really, don't blame me for not getting it. These guys are masterminds.

Then, the kitten got impatient, sloppy. Next-level tuna flake training requires patience and subtlety. Seth had been trying to train him, but he wanted his tuna flakes now. NOW!

Thus, the rock. He'd pulled it off my desk and dropped it. Not enough. Shoot. He needed to walk the length of  my body. Well, someone needed to. I was not waking up properly with the clackety rock.

So, when the crash came, I knew it was not an earthquake. I did not think Trump had finally lost the nuclear codes to the North Korean dictator. I knew exactly who was behind this catastrophe.

"Fucking cat!" I yelled.

I found the lamp switch and ripped the CPAP off my face while it blowed air into the air.

"Fucking shit cat," I repeated. I slapped at my CPAP machine until the air stopped blowing.

Mike and Nick surely heard the crash. What the hell was a little more noise? At least this way, they'd know what it was and go back to sleep.

I squinted. No clock blinking red. Teddy stood on the edge of his bed, aggrieved. My fake-Tiffany lamp lay on its side in the middle of his bed. No broken glass. A pile of books lay around it. My clock, unplugged, lay on the floor. Other little rocks, a framed photo, and my saline spray. My candle, the dish it sat on, and a half-burnt cedar punk, scattered.

What the hell?

I reached for my glasses and turned on the overhead light. My eyes ached then focused again. Little black chunks of burnt cedar ash were scattered everywhere. Both cats blinked at me. They tried to look innocent.

"That wasn't me," Seth seemed to say.

"Me neither," Blitz's innocence tried to indicate.

"Get out," I yelled.

Blitz peeled out on the laminate floor and crashed into the door trying to get around the corner. 

I closed two sets of doors and before I came back to the crime scene, there was pathetic banging on the outer door. No way in hell. I was going to be alone.

"Shut up." I said more quietly.

The books had come from the top of the bookshelf. That had to be Seth. Blitz couldn't jump that high. The rocks on the floor were Blitz's thing. The clock? Someone tangled in the clock cord. I couldn't quite make out what had happened, but it involved both cats. I was sure of that. Miraculously, nothing was broken, not even the light bulb. Poor Teddy. Everything had probably landed on poor Teddy. He looked exhausted, dark doggie circles hung under his eyes.

I moved everything back into place and patted Teddy's bed.

He wasn't having it. That bed was a hazardous site. He stood by the door, begging to go up to his other bed, the new couch.

Since I knew he was innocent, I opened the doors for him to go out.

Blitz sprinted into the room, then stopped and looked up at me. He rubbed against my legs.

Oh, he did not know how close to a football he had become.

"Get out," I said.

But he only moved a foot or two away before coming back. Seth came around the corner into the hall. He was silent, cautious. Was that an apology? From Seth?

I knew if I closed the door on them, Blitz would rattle that second door until I got up and let him in. So with both doors open, I got back into bed. I put my CPAP mask back on and snuggled down under my covers.

Blitz jumped onto the bed.


"Get Off," I said and pushed him off.

I'm sure I hurt his feelings. I didn't care. Both cats stood at the crime scene pacing silently back and forth.

"Get off," I repeated.

When my alarm went off an hour and a half later, both cats sat innocently on the edge of the bed. I hadn't heard them come up. They hadn't made a sound when they settled in.

I sat up and looked at the clock. 5:50 a.m. Seth sat. Demure. Giving me space. Blitz got up and came over for me to pet him. I resisted the urge to push him off the bed again. I petted him briefly and stood up. Nick's lunch, my smoothie. It was Monday. Busy day. Blitz looked at me with bright eyes.


Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Elk Sausage

Quite a few months ago, a friend gave us a roll of elk sausage that he had made. It sounded weird, even to me. But I promised I'd eat it and get back to him about the taste. I had tasted elk at a restaurant once. It was dry and needed salt, a lot more salt. But I didn't say that to my friend. The look on his face was that of a puppy sitting on command for the first time, eager, energetic, and sweet.

When I got home with the squishy roll that was oozing a bit of blood from the butt ends, I promptly put the thing into a Ziploc bag and onto the bottom shelf of the freezer. In the back. I didn't have to cook it right then, did I?

Oh, I eat all kinds of food. I even ate an ant once on a dare from my brother when I was about nine. He ate his live and I smashed mine, left most of its protein between my thumb and forefinger, then chased it with a Snickers bar. Nasty. I still shudder whenever I think of that, especially since my brother told me that his ant tried to climb back up his throat. I don't know if it was true but it still gags me when I think of it. True brotherly love lasts a lifetime.

So, the oozing roll of elk went out of my mind for long enough that my friend stopped asking me if I liked the taste. There are some limits to friendship, you know, and eating a roll of bloody elk sausage might be one of them.

But, there came a time, when the clear plastic Costco bag of chicken tenders indicated to Mike that it was time to eat it down. Eat it down is what Mike tells me to do whenever the stuff in the deep freeze starts to look like fossils.

I should never let him cook. First, he was not happy about having to make yet another meal. This wasn't what he signed up for when we first agreed that I would stay home with the baby. The baby was seventeen. He didn't need babysitting any more. There were dinners to make and I'm sure Mike thought about the fact that he'd just worked ten hours while I was noodling around on the computer all day, earning a total of nothing.

When he went downstairs to the freezer, did I imagine that his steps were just a little too firm? I heard plastic rustling and chunks of frost-heave falling off the roof of the freezer while he rummaged around. He walked up the steps with a bag of desiccated chicken tenders and looked me in the eye as I lounged in front of the computer.

"We need to start to eat it down again," he said. We.

"Oh, do we?" I said, innocently. He knew that I knew exactly what all that meat cost and what it currently looked like, dead, mummified, about to turn to dust.

That night, we ate peanut chicken slathered in peanut sauce so we could barely taste the dried-out and slightly off flavor of the chicken. You know what flavor I mean, freezer flavor. It's not bad, exactly. It won't send anyone to the toilet. But it had the distinct flavor I could always smell whenever I opened any freezer, mine, my mom's, my sister's, or my Grandma's . You just don't go about opening people's freezers unless they're family. You just don't. That frosty air wafts up and lays bare any notion that you are going to relish any meal that is produced from it, even Grandma's. I could always taste freezer in meat that had hung around too long. I'm sure Mike could taste it too, but there was the cost of what had gone into the freezer and, dammit, we were going to get it back out again if we had to eat that way for a month.

For the next week, I pored over the contents of the freezer each night and hoped to see something different. One block of ground beef, a quart of ice cream that Nick had somehow missed, a block of frozen squash, and chicken, lots of chicken. A whole chicken, chicken breasts, boneless skinless tasteless chicken thighs, chicken tenders, and even ground chicken. I dutifully cooked these into roasted freezer-burned chicken one night, cornflake crumby chicken another, more freezer-flavored peanut chicken, and finally chicken meatballs slow-cooked in Louisiana hot sauce. I never tasted the freezer in the chicken meatballs. I could never taste a thing while eating that Louisiana hot sauce. That night, when I made the meatballs, Mike said dinner was good.

After almost two weeks of eat it down, the freezer was finally emptied of everything but chicken thighs, miraculously the ice cream, and that rock hard roll of elk sausage on the bottom shelf of the freezer. In the back. There weren't enough thighs to make a whole meal.. I picked up the ice cream and held it in my hands. Coffee.

I loved coffee ice cream. I put it back on the shelf before my hot hands could melt it inside the container.

"You could have ice cream before dinner," a voice whispered. Steam rolled out of the freezer. Suddenly, it smelled sweet, lost the odor of raw meat. "Ice cream for dinner," it sighed. "No one would have to know. You don't have to eat that old meat shit. There are spoons down here. You could sit on the cooler and eat the whole thing until it was gone. No one would ever know."

Then, I knew. The devil lived in my freezer. Or at least in my head while I was standing in front of the open door of the freezer, in front of that glowing quart of ice cream.

If I ate that quart of ice cream, capillaries in my eyeballs would burst and I'd go blind. I'd get an immediate case of gangrene in my toes and they'd have to be cut off. I'd go into a diabetic coma and Mike would eventually find me lying on the floor with the ice cream container still in one hand, an old spoon in the other, the freezer door ajar and dropping chunks of frost onto the fake wood laminate flooring. Yes, the devil lived in my mind.

I grabbed the chicken thighs and the roll of elk sausage, slammed the door on that quart of coffee ice cream, and ran up the stairs.
I cut the little metal crimps off of either end of the elk roll and put it on a plate in the microwave to defrost. Twenty-five minutes. In the meantime, I tried a new recipe for the chicken tenders, haloumi chicken, and got to work on steaming some vegetables. The elk roll bled all over the inside of my microwave, despite the fact that I'd put a plate under it. Blood fucking everywhere. Cleaning up was so unappetizing, especially blood from raw meat.

An hour and a half later, I served beautiful plates of haloumi chicken with roasted tomatoes in virgin olive oil, virgin. There was steamed asparagus and cauliflower with butter and lemon pepper on the side plus little rounds of elk sausage with hickory smoked salt and onion.

"I didn''t like it," Mike said when he returned his plate, empty except for two elk rounds with a tiny bit missing from one edge. "Maybe it needed more salt."

"It tasted weird, Mom," Nick said, handing me his plate. His elk sausage hadn't changed shape. Did he even take one bite?

So, as I cleaned up the kitchen, Teddy and Blitz threatened to trip me. They would eat some elk. It wouldn't be a total loss. They had become accustomed to getting a tiny bit of what I had cooked for dinner. Well, Blitz got something and Teddy just stood around looking hopeful.

Poor Teddy had allergies. I'd learned my lesson on a tiny piece of steak once. The next day, he horked that steak into the crevice between the back seat and the door handle and I'd had to wipe it up. It was yellow and green and slimy.

They really wanted what I'd been cooking, these two. Blitz has learned that if he got to talking, I talked back to him until, eventually, I relented and gave him some of what I was eating. He'd eat anything. Chicken, salmon, tuna, beef. He even ate a leaf of spinach one time. That cat definitely came from a trailer park. If I'd offered him pickled pig's feet, I thought he would have eaten it.

So, I put a tiny piece of the rejected elk in front of him.

He looked at the meat, sniffed it, then looked back up at me.

"Go ahead," I said. "Try it. It's elk. What kitten do you know who gets to eat elk?"

He meowed and stepped over the tiny morsel lying on the floor. He rubbed against my ankles. He wanted chicken.

Against my better judgement, I leaned over, picked up the hunk of elk and threw it at Teddy. It hit him on the nose and fell between his feet. He sniffed it. Nope. Wasn't going to eat that shit. No way, Jose.

Blitz meowed again. He wanted something to eat, real food. They both, Teddy and Blitz, walked back and forth over that little bit of elk until I finally relented and gave them each bits of the chicken.

Over the next few days, I ate that entire roll of elk sausage myself. It was dry, tasted freezer burned, and needed salt.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Most Natural Thing in the World

Today was a banner day!

See, my nephew Ryan came to visit because the birthday present we gave him was totally lame and we needed to give him a decent gift.

And take him out for pizza.

No, giving Ryan a stupid present does not make this a banner day. It does not. It was embarrassing. See, we got him a Lego kit of Berlin when we were in Germany, but it turns out that it cost a bunch of euros and was about an inch by two inches by five inches, or at least that was how it looked when he sent me the picture. Plus, when we got back, we realized that Lego is the same ALL OVER THE WORLD, so nothing was stopping us from saving the space in our luggage and buying it at the mall when we got home.

I want to know what happened at Lego that the kits are so tiny and so expensive. Is there a plastic tax I didn't hear of yet? Was it affecting marine mammals? Did Lego just get so incredibly cool that they could afford to charge 30 euros for a kit that builds to 1x2x5 inches?


Right. Lego being too cool for school wasn't what made it was a banner day either.

As I was saying, Ryan showed up and we did normal stuff with him. We picked up pizza. We walked the dog. We gave him a gift card.

No, I'm telling you that getting pizza and walking the dog are not the reasons it was a banner day. Just hold on until I get to it, okay? 

Ryan likes walking the dog. We went to the river and threw rocks. Did you know I can't skip a rock any more? It's also a little bit of a sad day when I realize that I can't skip a rock any more. After that, we picked up food for dinner and I cooked macaroni and cheese.

Yes, having a macaroni and cheese day does make it a banner day. It does, especially Mike's mom's recipe for mac and cheese.

I had to sit here and think about that for a minute and say a blessing for Mike's mom's soul and the gift of her macaroni and cheese recipe. You know, I imagine a heaven that includes Mike's mom and unlimited macaroni and cheese. With hot dogs.

But the coolest thing that happened with Ryan was that Blitz, after listening to us sit and chat, after we spent ordinary time sitting on the couch, after we ate macaroni and cheese, and after 'Serenity' came on and we talked about the possibility of a remake of the Firefly series written by Joss Whedon, -  remember Blitz? Blitz actually walked into the middle of the living room and spent some time eyeing Ryan to see if he would turn into a predator. When he didn't. Blitz jumped onto my lap and let me pet him for a minute.

Then, I pulled out kitten cookies and threw them all over the floor until all the animals were running around like toddlers at an Easter egg hunt.

But then we laughed.

Blitz flattened then ran helter-skelter down the stairs as if he were being chased. When nobody chased him, he came back up the stairs after twenty minutes or so to see if anyone had left him any more cookies. After that, he wandered back and forth like having Ryan over was the most natural thing in the world. Maybe it was.

And that was why it was a banner day in our house today.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, September 8, 2017

Rewriting My Morning Meditation

I told you, didn't I, about how Blitz comes to sit on my notebook in the morning? He does.

See, I practice twenty minutes of writing meditation in the morning. It's amazing what floats to the surface. It's amazing how boring it is most of the time, a record of lost sleep, a grocery list, a preparation for my daily grind. But it feels right. I have a better day when I write. I do.

Since he came to our house, Blitz has interrupted that writing process. He sits on my notebook. He plays with my pen. He swishes my tail so that my notebook is full of shed fur. And instead, I spend twenty minutes petting, kissing, giving loose hugs, and listening to him purr.

Most days, it is an irritation. Most days, before I've written a half page, I get up and walk away. Some days, I breathe a sigh of relief as Blitz gets distracted by the other kitty or the long back of the dog walking past my knees to squeeze out of the narrow space. Blitz likes to whack Teddy's butt as he goes. Teddy is very patient. Blitz doesn't use his claws, but Teddy sighs because he's not quite awake at that hour. And sometimes, the game with Teddy is just too good and he'll leap onto his shoulder, patter out of the room, and I'll hear them both romp up the steps. At those time, I think, I'll get back to my writing meditation. I'll do it right. Three pages. Thank you, Julia Cameron.

But this morning. I had written about five words when Blitz leaped onto my leg and then settled himself on the right side of my notebook. I sighed and put down my pen. I petted him. He tucked his face into my palm. I leaned in and kissed him between the ears.

I hoped he hadn't rolled in cat litter in a while. I breathed in. No cat litter smell. And out.

I petted him. I leaned in and put my arms loosely around him, lightly resting my cheek on his shoulder. I could feel him purring. He lifted one paw out of my embrace. I knew he would use that paw to leap if he got uncomfortable in my clutches. I loosed the hug. I rubbed my other cheek on his neck. I could feel him purr.

I took a deep breath in this embrace. I breathed in and out, in and out.

Then, I sat back and wondered at my notebook. 

I tried to pick up my pen. I figured that I'd outline his butt on the notebook again so some future reader would know that my thoughts had been interrupted. I outlined his tail, his tail, his swishing tail. It looked like a fan on the page. I outlined his butt. Then, I outlined his back foot peeking out from his belly and his butt.


He swatted me. No claws, but a surprise.

I put down the pen and went back to petting him. Be nice, I told myself. I could feel through my hands how he purred. Had he stopped while I used my pen or did I just not notice in those moments? I leaned in to hug him again, to have that vibration against my ear. He lifted the one paw, the escape claws

I took another deep breath. I breathed in and out, in and out, in and out, listening only to my breath and his soft purring at my ear.

When I sat back up, that meditative feeling was there, satisfaction, focus, calm. There was calm. No matter what else happened during the day, I had begun it with calm

I've decided not to wish Blitz would leave when I write in the morning. He is all part of the plan. He leaps onto my notebook, breathe in, stroke his silky fur, and out. Breathe in and out. Listen for the breath, his purring. Feel his damp nose in my palm, pressing back. Breathe in and out. Focus on the moment, reach in for a hug, breathe in, loosen the hug, breathe out, feel the paw, breathe in, breathe out, in and out, in and out, until at last, I feel the calm.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Coming to the Party

Today is Blitz's first birthday. He's not a kitten any more, but don't tell anyone that he still eats a can of kitten food now and then. I blame Seth. Seth began to lose weight so the kitten food is the way for him to keep weight on. Blitz gets in there and steals some of it, half of it, maybe a little more than half.

Blitz doesn't really need kitten food any more. He's a little fluffy. You should see his beautiful belly when he rolls onto his back. He has a low little muffin top when he sits. He's a happy chubby baby. I try not to give him too many treats and junk food, but he loves occasional bits of chicken, pork, beef, and one time I gave him a bit of elk that someone had cooked for us. He didn't like the elk at all. He looked at me as if I were trying to pull something over on him. That's not food.

Today, most limitations went out the door since it was his birthday. No, I didn't make a kitten cake from a can of cat food and treats, but BabyCat got a teeny bite of brisket and almost a half can of yummy but stinky salmon and tuna delight.

This morning, Blitzie squirmed while Nick walked around the house carrying him and letting everyone wish him a happy birthday. Don't tell any of Nick's friends about how he loves this little kitten. It wouldn't be cool.

But it is so cool.

And there was the moment this evening when we all happened to gather while I handed out kitten treats to everyone who wanted them. Seth and Teddy were ready to celebrate. Mike and Nick were happy to watch me make a fool of myself.

Blitzen never came.

I suppose there was too much excitement, too much noise, too much potential to be captured and tortured with kitten treats and belly rubs and love.

The whole time I worked in the kitchen after dinner, wiping counters and putting dishes into the dishwasher, a little song rang through my head.

It's my party and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to ...

Blitz came up after it got quiet again, but the party was over. He ate a couple of treats and I could feel his fur in my toes under the table when I sat down to the computer. I am turning into one of those women, aren't I? Too old for babies and too young for grandchildren. Technically, I'm plenty old for grandchildren, but it didn't work out that way. And now I'm celebrating cat birthdays. Mortifying. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Smoke and Strangers

Blitz had a hard afternoon yesterday.

It wasn't just because the house smelled like a campfire. The other two furry kids paced and watched me for cues that the house was about to burn down. The house was fine, but they didn't know that. I spent an inordinate amount of time inside yesterday, keeping the doors and windows closed, petting pets and distracting myself, staring out the window.

Blitz didn't have a hard day because the sun was a red disk in the sky either. The sky took on a yellow glow. I stood at the window. Where I grew up, if the sky turned green, it meant there might be a tornado. You needed to watch a green sky, make preparations to move to the West wall in the basement. You needed to prepare yourself for sitting in the dark for hours if the power went out, for straining to hear through the concrete walls and floor above you for the telltale sound of a train rushing by where there were no tracks. You needed to consider a green sky. But this wasn't green. It was a flat yellow sky.  I had lived through smoke before, but this yellow sky with a red sun gave me the creeps. I'd notice an orange shadow and it kept taking me some time to figure out it was just sunshine.

The weather report says the next fifteen days will be sunny. No rain. There will be no relief from this awful yellow sky and red sun throwing orange light. But that wasn't why Blitz had a hard afternoon yesterday.

No, Blitz wasn't worried about any of that.

My friend Anna came to the house.

Anna is a quiet person. She loves cats. I really thought that she would be the breakthrough Blitz needed to begin to get over his shyness.

It didn't work to bring lots of friends over to meet him when he was tiny. My poor baby just got more worried every event I scheduled. He buried himself deeper in far rooms in closets in boxes. It didn't help to go find him. It didn't help to crate him first and let him out when people came to see him. They would hold him loosely for a minute and let him dash when he leaped out of their arms. It was sad to bring my most kitten-loving friends over to my house only to have him bolt in abject fear the minute I handed him over. The whole process only made him more fearful not less.

Anna says I should relax and let him be himself.

See what I mean? If anyone could get my little munchkin to relax it's Anna. She understands the introverted and the need for the solace of a quiet house. I just know Blitz would love Anna if he just tried.

There I go, an extrovert trying yet again to get an introvert to change. Blitz is not going to change. My friends are never going to see Blitz's charm as he talks to me in the morning. They are never going to see how funny he is when I pick him up and he uses his front paws to walk up the side of the washing machine. They are never going to decipher his Morse code dashes and dots as he rolls onto his back to get his belly rubbed. They are never going to see how he leaps up and tags Teddy on the shoulder when he wants to start a game. My friends are never going to know my little Blitzen.

The worst part is that if there really is a fire, if the house is burning down and a fireman comes in to rescue the kitten, you know, the hero of the story who gets to be on the cover of Time in his uniform with a kitten in his arms... If the hero comes into my house to save the day?

Blitz is totally going to die.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Fifty-five Years, Thirteen Weeks, and Approximately Four Days

When I was a kid, I was required to make my bed every morning. If I didn't do a good enough job, I would be told to repeat the process until it passed inspection. Sometimes it took me three or four tries to get it right. It was especially challenging when my mother put my brother in charge of the inspection.

One of the first things I did as an adult was to assert my independence by not making my bed. Oh, I would make it out of politeness whenever I visited at anyone's house, but in my own home, I have had fifty-five years, thirteen weeks, and approximately four days of not making my bed.

I take not making my bed seriously. No one in my house is required to make their beds. I'm not even sure Nick knows how, which will be embarrassing when he visits someone's house and doesn't do it as a courtesy. Hopefully, he'll figure that out.

Did you know that the colonies of dust mites don't thrive in an unmade bed? Dust mites like it warm, humid, and cozy, the temperature of us, not the temperature of a cool room. So, I have only been encouraged by this study to not make my bed.

Dust mites are gross.

Image result for dust mite images free

Yet, we live with them every day. If humans had very good vision, we might go bat-shit crazy trying to get away from the creatures that live on and around us. Like face mites.

face mites

You're grossed out now, aren't you. I am too. My face itches. I wonder if these things die in great numbers when I scratch my itches?

Okay, I might have to go throw up. There is no getting away from these things. I'm going to have to stop thinking about it. That's hard since there is a photo sitting on my screen right now. I tried to convince myself that these creatures are a part of having healthy skin, but I couldn't find a study. I need a study saying that they're good and useful mites, that they help people set their faces to rights.

So hard. So impossible when you start to think about it. You know, those little fish that clean the sharks. The sharks don't just tolerate them. They encourage them. There are fish that open their mouths so the cleaner fish can brush their teeth. And they can see their critters.

I hate parasites. Leeches, ticks, giardia anything that attaches to a body, inside or out. Oh, I could spare some calories to creatures around me. I always toss down a couple of nuts for birds that hang around when I'm snacking. I like birds. I like squirrels even though they're just friendly rats with decorative tails. I like cats, dog, the ultimate creatures to take advantage of my good health. They came to us to eat what we had left over and they stayed. They don't suck the life directly out of us, but they certainly change our behavior, eat our food, require that we groom them, clean up after them, and give them affection.

If dust mites were bigger, they'd have to be furry and have big eyes. They'd look a little like a hedgehog or an armadillo. Armadillos are adorable. Why am I so grossed out by the mites? For me to like them, they'd have to look like the Tardigrade bugs, those little water bears that scientists say can survive in space. If I really have to have face mites, can't they at least be cute like the water bears?

Image result for tardigrade water bear images free download

So, the mites pictures are far enough up my screen now, that I'm breathing a little more evenly. I'm going to imagine that my face mites are furry little creatures that kiss my face a million times a day and give my skin the healthy glow that it has after a hike. I'm going to imagine that when my face itches, which it still does, that I am only petting my thousand little pets as I scratch my forehead. I scratch dogs at the park when they sidle up to me, right? I'll pet any stranger cat in the street that's friendly enough for me to come near it, right? So, my little dust and face mites are my friends, cuddly little creatures that I care for. Shoot, they're the perfect pet. I don't have to open a can of food, refill a water dish, walk them, play with them, or even clean a putrid litter box.

Oh man, this is not working. My face is the face mite's litter box.

Breathe in, out, breathe in, out, breathe in, and out very slowly. Don't think about it. Don't think about it. Don't think about it.

And I'm back.

So, in order to control the colonies of dust mites that live in my bed, I insist that not making my bed is the best method for managing. It's nice to be able to jump into a cool bed at night without having to fold down the sheets. It's healthier. Right? It's a time-saver.

This morning, I needed to go back to bed. I woke up too early and I was going to need to go back to bed for a while to have a normal day.

Blitz likes to jump back into bed with me when I go. All of the furry babies do. When I went back into my bedroom, they all followed me. I have a good bed. Seth took up residence on the folded-over part of the duvet at the bottom of the bed. Blitz sat on his own pillow with a fleece pillowcase at the top of the bed. Teddy circled once and groaned a little as he laid down in his own bed next to my bed. It was cozy. I was surrounded by my furry creatures and it was very cozy.

 I had noticed that Blitz did his business after I got up and when I came back into bed, he sat on his fleecy pillow for me to pet him before I fell back to sleep.

While I was getting situated, fluffing the covers up over my face, wiggling my toes against the still-warm depth of my sheets, and petting Blitzie,  I realized that there were little crumbs of something in bed with me. Ew.

I sat up in bed, turned on the reading light, and threw back the covers. I could feel them, one scratchy thing by my knees and another itchy one near my calves. I got out of bed. I turned on the overhead light.

There was cat litter in my bed, tiny chunks of cat litter. I had been sleeping in a litter box. That filthy little kitten. Oh man, it was so disgusting.

I'm going to have to break my fifty-five year, thirteen week, and approximately four day streak of not making my bed.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, August 25, 2017

Morse Code

Blitz is getting friendlier. Finally, he doesn't run when someone besides me leans over to pick him up.

Every day, I whisper into his ear, "No one is going to hurt you here. Everyone loves you here. The hard part is over. Just relax and have some fun."

Okay, it's not exactly those words every day. Sometimes it's only, "Chill out, dude. This isn't the hunger games."

The hypocrisy of saying that occurs to me when we're going to bed at night.

Blitz has trained me to pet him any time I'm on the stairs. He runs half way up and then stops, rolls onto his back, and throws his paws into the air like a puppy begging for a belly rub. He has dots and lines on his belly. I can't help but drop three bags of groceries and get on my knees to pet those dots and lines. Besides, stopping always elicits help from anyone in the living room who thinks I may be struggling under all that weight. I'm a little devious myself.

So, I rub Blitz's belly and let him play with my fingers and roll around. It's just recent that he can stop himself from rolling down a couple of steps as he does all this lolling about. It was adorable.

I already miss the clumsy little kitten.

So, I guess I screwed up by making this a spot for love and affection. I never let Nick and his friends play on the stairs when they were little. I said they were too dangerous. Why didn't I stick to my guns with Blitz? I blame the dots. And especially the lines. They're adorable dots and lines. They look like Morse code. What does his belly say?

I should look that up. The Universe could have sent me a secret message. It could be important.

At night, when I'm going to bed, Blitzmunchen does the same thing, stops in the middle of the stairs and rolls onto his back. The lights are sometimes off because my eyes are tired and I use the teeny spotlight on my iPhone. Then, when he stretches out on the steps, I struggle to see him and risk kicking him.

Once, I caught him with my moving foot and he flew down four or five steps like a soccer ball. I dropped the pile of library books I intended to read in bed and told him I was so sorry. I didn't mean to kick him. I just didn't see him.

Do animals know how night-blind humans are? Or do they just think we're stupid, or worse, mean?

Anyway, once I sat down on the steps to try to apologize, Blitzkrieg came running up to me for a belly rub. So now, forever and ever, I have to sit on the stairs at night, when I'm exhausted, when I'm almost blind because I'm using the tiny spotlight on my iPhone, and fumble with petting his belly.

So no, Blizzard, it's not true what I tell you every day, that no one is going to hurt you. I could hurt you. I could kick you down the stairs. I could step on you and break that already crunchy spot at the end of your tail. I do love you. I do. But I could be the one that makes life hard for you all over again.

I hate being a hypocrite.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Blitz's Other Mommy

I picked up dog food at my vet clinic yesterday. I buy the expensive stuff, Hills I/D, because my Teddy has some kind of allergy.

It might make sense to spend the money for a test to see what he's allergic to so I can go to a cheaper kind of food, but he's the second dog I've had on the Hills I/D diet. The first dog, Indiana, had the expensive test and still spent the rest of her life eating the expensive food. It worked for her. It works for Teddy.

So why spend the money on the test, right?

There was even a guy at the counter, a customer, who informed me of a brand of cheaper food I could buy. Frankly, I'm tired of spending money on a bag of new food to see if it will make Teddy barf down the passenger-side door and into that groove where I put my hand to close the door. If he pukes a second time, it will go into the little crevice where the seat belts sprout. If I'm at home, I don't want to have to leap up from the computer to slam the sliding glass door open when he's retching only to have him vomit in my yard shoes lying there because I didn't move fast enough. I'm not enamored of having him flap his ears and having to put goop in them for a week, getting sprayed with the excess glop every time as he tries to evade my helpful attention. I learned that my mouth is usually open when I'm focused on getting the liquid into the right place in his ear while I grapple his body between my knees. That stuff tastes terrible. I'm not sure I can handle being poisoned with any more of the ear gunk. And we don't even need to talk about the hot spots. I get a lot of dirty looks at the park when my dog has hot spots. I can't thrive under the glare of those dirty looks.

So, no. I don't feel up to trying the great new food that a total stranger tells me I have really got to try so I can save a few bucks each month. He spelled the name of it, you know, as if I were a dull child not understanding the value of his lessons. 

Oh, we could argue all day about this, but that's not what I sat down to tell you.

I wanted to tell you about eternally sharing a kitten.

Blitz will always belong to more than one family.

At the vet clinic counter, I had made a pile of all the food I needed to buy, dry dog, wet dog, wet cat, and treats. Seeing the big bag of food, the office manager came out of her office.

"Can I help you with any of that?" she asked. She always has a smile on her face. I knew I was going to have to tell her that her smile had become an indelible image in my day.

"Yeah, I was wondering if this gastrointestinal stuff is the same as the Hills Hypo treats."

And we went back and forth, chatting, while she found exactly what I wanted behind some other bags of treats. That friendly face. It gave me a little heartache every time I imagined it.

"You know, I picture your face a lot," I said, sounding just a little bit crazy even to myself. She stopped smiling for a second. "You know what I mean." She probably didn't. "Every time I kiss Blitz's head, he leans into me. It's as if he thinks that's the only way a kitten can be properly loved. You did that."

She smiled again.I finally stopped rambling.

"He didn't like it when he was a baby," she said. "He used to squirm whenever I kissed him. I can't believe how big they're all getting. They're all grown up now."

"Except Blitz has a tiny little head."

She laughed. "They all do, don't they?"

"And the back end of him is normal size."

And she laughed again.

"Do you think he's stunted?" I asked. "He's going to stay pretty small."

"They're all the same size. You know, they could be. The kids that saved them were feeding them Ritz crackers. You knew about the kids, didn't you?"

"No!" I said.

"The kids that found them didn't have much. They only had Ritz crackers, so they fed them what they had. That's how the one, the one that was dying... That's why he's named Ritz. The kids got really worried about them and they called us so we could help. That's how we got them to begin with. The kids fed them Ritz crackers."

"Holy cow. I didn't know that." 

"Yeah. Those kids saved their lives." I didn't mention to her that everyone in her office saved them too. I had seen a before picture of Ritz, the kitten that almost died, flaccid and with glazed eyes. His after picture was of a bouncy healthy kitten leaping for a string. Every time I go into the office, they tell me that now he plays with his German shepherd and Labrador retriever, that he's a pretty cantankerous kitten. They tell me that Blitz is really affectionate but that he's much quieter than his brothers.

It always takes me a while to get out of the vet's office these days when I buy food. I don't mind. It's a connection I never had with them before.

When I got home and hauled all of my bags and cans inside, dry dog, wet dog, wet cat, and treats, Blitz stood in the kitchen waiting for me to open a treat for him. The way the plastic crinkles is enough to call him from the deepest recesses of the house.

"Do you want a treat, Blitzen? Are you hungry?" I use a baby voice when I talk to him. I should be embarrassed to admit that, but I'm not.

"Yeah," he said.

He literally says yeah, now, and eh.

I opened the bag, pushed him out of the way with my foot, and popped open the garbage can so I could throw away the plastic strip.

Why is it that a cat is always standing in front of the garbage can when I need to step on that little pedal? Every single time.

"Now," he said.

I slid my fingers across the top of the pouch to close it and carried the treat into the living room where I sat down on the couch. I put a pillow on my lap and patted it with the hand that held the treat. With my other hand, I held down the hidden button that lifted the footrest of the built-in recliner. There were food crumbs in there. Why do they have to hide those stupid buttons where there are always food crumbs and lost paper clips?

Blitz jumped onto my lap and aligned himself down the length of my belly. Then he put his right paw on my left breast. He always does that. Why does he always do that?

I put the cat treat right in front of him, where my cleavage would be if I had one. I don't think he even chewed the thing.

Then, he half stood and leaned in toward me. I held him by his sides and kissed his forehead, where the little M lines score his eyebrows.  And there she was, Blitz's other mommy, smiling and talking about her baby in my head.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, August 21, 2017

Animal Behavior During the Eclipse

I took Teddy with me to meet in the parking lot where Mike works so that I could share in the use of the eclipse glasses his company handed out. That company had gotten cheaper and cheaper over the years but this is the coolest gift they've ever given us, except for a children's Christmas party years ago with a real Santa and a karaoke Christmas caroling contest. I won the contest.

I told you I could sing.

Teddy. Right. I was talking about Teddy.

So, Teddy jumped happily into the car at 8:45 this morning. He sighed as we drove on the overpass hovering next to the dog park. I heard him from the back seat.

He groaned when we parked next to my husband's car in the company parking lot and I rolled down the windows for good ventilation.

He sniffed my fingers as I got out of the car with my paraphernalia and leaned in the window to explain it to him. Should I be embarrassed at talking with a dog as I stood by myself in a parking lot where I didn't even work?

To hell with what I looked like. Paraphernalia. I brought some stuff.

Small recycled box
Two pair of binoculars
Welding Glasses

Now, Teddy thought the snacks smelled good. Pepperoni and apple chips. Well, he wasn't much interested in the apple chips.

I lined my kit up on the hatchback. My notebook slid off. I picked it up. My pen cap skittered onto the asphalt and rolled under my tire. I got down onto one knee and retrieved it. The pages of my open notebook fluttered and flipped. I took the pin, poked a hole in the box and used it to pin the pages down on one side.

The hole in the box gave me a cookie shadow the size of this capital O, only with a bite taken out of one side. I managed to balance my notebook and pen in one hand and the box held in the air in the other to get a shaky shadow to fall onto my notebook. As I drew the outline, my pen and my hand obliterated the box shadow. My notebook was evidence of a pathetic science experiment.

Teddy stuck his nose out the window.

"This is boring," he seemed to say.

"Get over it," I said out loud. Nick was somewhere East of where I stood, watching with his friends. I didn't have to feel any embarrassment over my geekness. I love this shit.

I pulled the caps off a pair of binoculars. No, I was not about to look through them at the sun. Mike hadn't yet appeared and I didn't want to be blindly wandering around in the parking lot when he did. I aimed the googly-eyed end of the binoculars toward the sun and shifted it around, looking beyond them to the ground.

Shit. It didn't work.

I almost gave up. One more shake of the binoculars and I was ready to throw them back into the front seat.

Matching crescents danced on the side of my car.

Cool! They looked like the eyes of the wondering emoji. They were poised in the center of the shadow of my head. It looked like I had googly eyes!

Just then, Mike showed up with the eclipse glasses. He said hello to Teddy while I put the glasses on to see. They were cheap paper glasses and when I put them on, I couldn't see a thing until I looked in the direction of the sun. It was beautiful! These things were great. Mike worked for the coolest company ever.

Teddy was happy for a moment.

I handed Mike one of the seltzers I brought and pushed a pepperoni stick out of the package for him. This, Teddy indicated, was a little interesting. Then, I showed Mike how I was tracing the outline of the eclipse onto my notebook as it progressed. He laughed as I dropped my notebook, then my cardboard box. And the image shook so hard it was hard to capture it on my notebook. I put everything down and showed him the crescents through the binocular. They turned the eclipse upside down.

I hadn't realized they flipped the eclipse. Teddy pulled his head back in the car and laid down with a grunt. No pepperoni for dogs. Boring again.

Mike and I took turns with the glasses. You could almost see the progress, but it wasn't even the peak, 92% in the Seattle area, and my eyes were already tired. We wandered away from the car to look at the shadows from the trees. There were some great crescents on the surface of a clean white SUV parked next to a tree. I took a dozen pictures of someone's car in the parking lot of Mike's company. I hoped no security guard came outside to ask me what I was doing.

Teddy stuck his nose out the window as if we were going on this great walk without him. Crying.

Then, we came back to the car for the grand finale. The glasses showed the narrowest sliver of sun. No diamond ring. No corona. We weren't within the band of totality. But it did get unnaturally dark for a clear morning and the temperatures dropped to a noticeable degree. I shivered. Teddy put his chin up on the arm rest inside the door. Totally boring. No park. No pepperoni. No walk.

Then, Mike and I took even more time to watch the crescent roll up and over the top of the moon. I tried the welding glasses, but everything was way too bright, so I put them away. My binocular crescents showed me with humble eyes on my shadow. I took a couple more pictures, balancing the binoculars on my shoulder to keep the images steady.

Then, Mike needed to get back to work. One lost hour of productivity for every worker in the county. I wonder how much that cost? With Mike gone, Teddy was even more disinterested.

I loitered in the parking lot for a little longer, unabashedly showing people who wandered by that the shadows on the white SUV were still very decorative. Teddy crawled into the front seat and prepared to take a nap. Mike sent me a photo of a white wall with leaves shadows on it, crescents making it look like an artist had gone overboard with his curves.

And then it was over. I gathered my notebook, my pen, the stupid cardboard box, the binoculars, and the great little pair of eclipse glasses that Mike had left for me to use. It was over.

I moved Teddy out of my seat and sat down. He hopefully hopped into the back seat. Time to go to the park?

I then proceeded to look at Facebook and Twitter photos and videos for twenty minutes before reluctantly acknowledging that this event of a lifetime was over, at least until six years from now when we could see it all over again in Indiana.

Then, finally, we went to the park. And finally, Teddy had a grin on his face. Now, this was great, dogs to play with and trees to pee on and water to swim in and fuck the eclipse.

I loved the eclipse.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, August 14, 2017

'Deadlines' for Moth

I have this recurring nightmare. I'm at college on the first day of finals. I have no idea where my class is because I haven't gone to a single class the whole semester. I have one class left before I graduate yet I know I'm not prepared. Today, I have my final in a subject I barely understand. I can't afford to fail this class. I don't want to have to stay here and take it over again. I don't want my education to be incomplete. My future depends on it. My husband has graduated and found a job in another city. He has already moved there to get our lives set up. I so desperately want to go with him. I so desperately want to pass this class if I can only figure out which room is the right room and remember one or two details from the heavy tome I read the night before.

Usually, I'm standing in the university halls in my underwear.

I went to Purdue. I did graduate. I swear I did. It was decades ago. It was the era of big hair, Jordache jeans, jelly shoes, fanny packs, and the Rocky Horror picture show. Let's do the time warp again. I know I'm bragging, but bear with me. I'm nervous. I have a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

But in this dream I am there at college all over again. Over and over, I have to graduate from that tight-assed school with a degree that doesn't suit me. I have to prove that I am worthy to go off to live my life with my husband. I don't want to live in a dorm one more year. I don't want to have Freshman roommates. I don't want to go out on a Friday night to keggers and frat parties and beer. Oh my.

I'm fifty-seven fucking years old. I am too old and fat for this shit. I really am. I'm a stay-at-home mom, a housewife, a woman of leisure, except when my husband gets the idea that we need to spend our precious time volunteering. I spent ten years volunteering at my son's schools. I still volunteer there. I spent ten years volunteering for his Boy Scout troop. I'm almost done with that, but now and then, I still get a phone call from a Scout who doesn't know he's supposed to say hello on the phone and tell the person on the other end of the line who's calling and why he's calling. Last Sunday, I volunteered for seven hours in a tiny kitchen helping to feed 127 people at the Forest Theatre's last show of the season. I had a good time. I was busy, but this wasn't what you would call a deadline. None of it is what you'd call a deadline.

I don't really have deadlines. If I don't show up to volunteer, what are they going to do, fire me? If I don't make dinner one night, is my sixteen year old boy and adult husband going to starve to death?

So, here I am. I'm fifty-seven exhausted years old. My son is in high school, practically raised except for the finishing touches.

I don't have deadlines.

And yet I still have these fucking dreams. Over and over. I wake up from them in a sweat. I'm breathing heavily. I want to roll my husband over in his bed and make sure I'm not sleeping in a dorm with an oversized pillow instead.

I wonder if it's God talking to me. Or the "Universe," you know with a capital 'U.' Or maybe it's just the deeper parts of my own brain, talking in its sleep.

"Jules, you're not finished yet," it says in a stage-whisper. "You do have a deadline to meet. A dead. Line. Get it? If you don't get this stuff done soon, you will never be able to do it. Ever."

Did you know that Van Gogh did most of his paintings within four years? He was practically manic, trying to get them all done.

I sometimes wonder if he had recurring nightmares about school. Did he worry about dead lines? Did he dream that he painted in the fields of hay in his underwear?

Finally, after ten years or so of these nightmares, I realized what they were all about. The end of my ultimate education was approaching. I still didn't know a thing, I mean really know. If I was going to take that final step, I knew I wasn't ready. I would never be ready. But I had to take it because if I didn't, I leave one huge thing incomplete. And I never get a chance to complete it.

And so I am here, telling you my story, hoping I know enough to pass, feeling like I could easily fail, feeling like I'm standing here in this hall, in my underwear.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sewing with Cats

Blitz is standing on my lap while I type. He's purring but he wants both of my hands to pet him so any time I get going with two-handed typing, he lifts one paw out of the embrace of my elbows and taps the keyboard. He likes the cursor, a bug that can move in such tight circles his eyes feel a little drunk.

We could sit here like this for hours, my left hand holding back his paw. What can I do with the cursor to make Blitz's head bob back and forth in a ridiculous way? What can he permanently change in one tap of his paw?

He and I had an adventure yesterday.

See, Mike, Nick and I are going to the Renaissance faire on Saturday and suddenly Nick needs me to make him a tunic. It isn't enough to go shopping once we get to the faire like most people do. No. I have to make him a tunic so he can appear there as if he's this uber-Medieval man who made his own costume from leather and twine.

"You can make a tunic, right?" Mike said. I usually quilt, preferring the two-dimensional nature of a blanket to the three-dimensional nature of covering my butt.

"Mom, do you like sewing stuff like this?" Nick asked.

We were already at the fabric store. The two men had already chosen the fabric, a slick linen while I searched for a pattern I might be able to follow. Nothing from Vogue. I was not ready for Vogue. Nick held out the bolt to me. I'd like to have a skirt made out of this linen.

"I can do that, but in two days?" I said. Mike gave me the secret-code look. It said, 'Look, the boy has expressed an interest in something besides video games. I don't care how much money we spend or how much time it takes for us to support that but you are going to make this tunic, so help me God.'

"Yeah, honey. I like making costumes. I'm not sure about the collar. I've never done a collar before, but I'll give it a shot." I held the bolt out to the sales lady behind the counter, trying to smile faked confidence into Nick's face. "I can figure it out." The sales lady looked at me dubiously.

I probably had made a collar some time in my deep past, but I didn't explain to Nick about the trauma of learning how to sew and restitching seams so many times that the fabric eventually ripped at the seam line. At nine, I could not sew in a straight line to save my life. But this is Nick and I would do anything for Nick, especially if it pulled him away from video games. Mike is working on a leather project with him. At least I don't have to cut and stitch leather.

Fifty-three dollars later, we have the makings and the pattern of a tunic. We could have bought a tunic with a lace-up yoke and puffy sleeves for thirty five. But no.

Yesterday, I woke up early. How the hell would I be able to make a tunic with puffy sleeves and a real collar in two days? I pulled out the wad of Kleenex they use to print the patterns, expecting them to shred as they came out of the envelope. I unfolded them on the pool table. I looked at the directions. Collars. Oh, and I'd have to figure out how to sew a yoke at the neck and turn it right side in. I tried to sew it, turn it, and stitch on the collar in my mind. Mush.

I needed pins. Pins and scissors.

I ran upstairs to get my good scissors and a pin cushion and ran back down. God help anyone who used those scissors for anything but fabric. I ran back upstairs for a pair of scissors to cut the paper pattern.

The nice thing about this sewing set-up that I have is that I get a great workout doing it. The pool table is generally clear enough that I use that as a cutting table for any projects. It's downstairs. My sewing machine is upstairs. This is my stairmaster, forgetting my scissors and pin cushion. Up and down, up and down, until I've done my thirty minutes of aerobics or more.

When I got back downstairs, the pile of tissue was on the floor. Blitz stood a foot away, nonchalant. There was a single hole in the top layer of the pattern.

I glared at Blitz and picked up the wad of tissue. One small piece slid out from my grip and Blitz was on it, all the feigned disinterest gone from his face.

"No, you do not get to play with these," I said. I'm sure he understood what I said, but he's a cat. He had no interest in complying.

I spread the linen out onto the table and ran my hands over it. A skirt is two pieces, a bell and a waistband. Pockets are easy. No. I needed to learn how to make a tunic, one with a yoke and a collar.

The pattern for the tunic had six pieces but I had to distinguish them from the pants, the scarf, and the pirate band that wrapped around the model's heads. I began to cut the tissue with the cheap scissors, separating the six pieces from the others. Blitz leaped onto the table and sat down on the fabric.

"Get off," I said, trying to be gentle as I pushed him away from the pile of already-torn tissue. His naked butt pressed into the linen and he used one claw in the fabric to resist. His intent was apparent. The crinkly paper was a perfect new toy. It would shred into a million entertaining pieces.

I lifted him off the fabric and put him on the floor. I had just smoothed out the fabric again when he leaped back on. So, I moved the pile of tissue to the other side of the pool table and finished sorting them. Before I cut any of this, I thought, I'd need to measure Nick. I was just getting proficient enough with a pattern to add length here and subtract width there. I ran upstairs to get Nick out from under the spell of the television.

Because I was making this tunic for him, he submitted to the measurements. He's growing up. Even a year ago, he would have grumbled at the interruption even if it was something I was trying to do for his benefit.

When I got back downstairs, Blitz dropped a straight pin from his mouth. I screamed. Blitz bolted.

"Nick, I need you!"

Nick and I spent the next half hour trying to coax Blitz out from behind the suitcases in the under-the-stairs closet and examine him ears to tail. Nick held him belly up while I checked his mouth for damage and rubbed his neck and belly to see if he had any pain. I called my vet while I continued to rub, squish, and stare at Blitz. Blitz stretched out and let me massage him all over. The vet said that if he had anything in his mouth or had swallowed a pin, he would be in distress. This cat wasn't in distress. She said we should probably keep an eye on him for the next twenty-four hours just in case.

That cat needed more than one eye on him.

When I got back to the pool table, there were five straight pins scattered around the pin cushion. I was always careful with my straight pins. I had hated getting them stuck in my feet as a kid and always picked up each one whenever one fell. Blitz jumped back onto the pool table.

"Oh, no you don't," I said. He glared at me as I stuck his pointy toys back into the pin cushion and swept under the fabric with my hand for any more. It came out with one pin stuck into it. Great. I would bleed on the tunic before it was even cut. The cats had never messed with my pin cushion in my sewing room. Now, suddenly, it was a toy or a hazard, depending on your perspective. I reached up and placed the pin cushion on a high shelf.

Then, I smoothed out the fabric again, nice fabric.

I gathered tissue pieces from the floor where they'd floated when I'd screamed and Blitz had scattered. There was another tear in one of them. I laid them down onto the fabric, trying to replicate the drawing in the instructions. The front and back had to be cut on the fold. The sleeves would need to be less puffy to fit the rest.

Seth jumped onto the pool table and stretched out on the other end of the fabric, shifting a piece of tissue out of his way. Nice fabric. It would make a good cat bed. I picked him up and put him on the floor. By the time I straightened up, Blitz jumped onto the table and dislodged another piece of the pattern.

I was getting nothing done. Not one thing.

I needed to move the fold in the linen to make it work. I picked each cat up and put them on the floor and lifted the linen by one corner before they could jump back onto it. Tissues floated away. Blitz batted at the long piece of fabric as I tried to move the fold to about a quarter of its width. Before I spread it back onto the pool table with the fold just right, Blitz jumped back up and sat down on one end.

"Neat game," he seemed to say. "Your turn."

I crawled under the pool table and located each of the six pattern pieces. I grabbed the pin cushion off the high shelf and tried to hold it while I pinned the tissue for the front of the tunic to the fold in the fabric. Blitz played with the little strawberry that hung from the top of the pin cushion while I held it.

Just then, Mike walked in the front door. He was home from a hard day at work.

"Hi hon," he said looking from one cat to the other. "You having fun?"

Thank you for listening, jb