Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Deathbed Test

My life seems defined by small interruptions, the stove-top timer that went off even though I'd already turned the heat off under my soup, the tiny cat who is convinced that the dog's food must be better than his and tortures the dog's heels while he tries to eat, the dog whose need to be let out is directly proportional to the number of seconds I've been seated in the recliner.

Yet, on the days when I'm not interrupted multiple times for inane reason, I end up pacing, losing track of my objectives, sometimes feeling aimless.

It's almost as if those interruptions serve as a reminder that I have a purpose in mind and the Universe is there to either prod me toward it or gently nudge me into a different direction.

It's the deathbed test. Am I the only one who does this?

When I'm lying on my deathbed, I once read, I won't likely wish I had spent more time cleaning my house. The original quote by Paul Tsongas went like this: "No one on his deathbed ever said, I wish I had spent more time on my business." When I first encountered it, some harried mom had changed 'business' to 'cleaning.' I was attracted to that saying like a fly to a pile of shit. I'm not known for my love of cleaning house. My friends once labeled me a bachelor because of the random and dirty condition of my apartment. I'm not sure if it was the bike hanging on the wall like art, the estate sale couch, or the dirty dishes fixed in the sink.

Since then, I've done the deathbed test for multiple areas of my life, spending time with the friend who doesn't respect my opinion, volunteering for the teacher who didn't like me because I stood up to her, the group quilt project that evolved away from the joy it was supposed to be into a chore and a debt. These things easily dropped off my list of priorities when given the deathbed test.

So what remains?

I will never regret making healthy meals for my family. The time I spent building Legos and playing with action figures with Nick stay on that list even though I had wished more than once that I could get up in a particular moment. Teaching Nick to drive sticks. I can't tell you how comfortable it makes me to let him take the wheel. He has pushed so hard his whole life to have autonomy and this is his beginning. Making that quilt for my best friend's daughter and the one I donated to the Evergreen Cancer Center in memory of my dad are both good deathbed priorities. And I'm glad I went to the Womxn's March on Seattle even though I knew I was getting sick. The two women marching next to me with their son scored a ten on that one, and the bald eagles too. Did anyone tell you that a pair of bald eagles soared over our march, like some great metaphor for the patriotic message of our cause?

Look, I still have this nasty cold and I don't think I'm going to make any great literary achievements today. I just wanted to tell you that talking to you passes my deathbed test too. I can picture you out there, all eight of you, commiserating when I'm aggravated about the silly cat and his quest for the best food in the house and the way he eats dog food in order to achieve it. I love believing that there are moms out there who worry about underachieving or who just feel unappreciated by their teenagers. I love believing that I might make one person think about how most of the plastic containers we buy are only filled half way because of a marketing ploy and that there's a whole raft of plastic bigger than Texas in each ocean right now. I might make you think about grabbing that Ziploc container that you can throw into the dishwasher instead of a plastic bag you're going to goober and throw away after one use. Or I might convince you to buy the loose lettuce instead of the stuff in a plastic clam shell. I might talk about Mike and make you think of one person who loves you dearly. I can never go wrong talking about love. And I love thinking I might sometimes make you laugh.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, January 23, 2017

An Open Letter to Paul Ryan

An Open Letter to Paul Ryan:

When two great powers grapple, they often lock arms in a stalemate, neither side moving forward or gaining traction. But when one power is suddenly removed, the other often loses balance and begins to fall forward.

You finally have control of the Legislative, the Executive, and soon enough, the Judiciary branches of the United States government.

After millions of ordinary people around the world just marched against the direction the Executive branch of our government is headed, it might behoove those of you in the Legislative branch to reassess your priorities. Some Republicans have already begun, including John McCain.

A continued battle against President Obama's achievements may very well backfire. There is no great power in the government opposing you now. What makes more sense than continuing to oppose President Obama is to address the achievements you would like to make in service to the people of the United States.

Do you want to lower the deficit? What about reinforcing income and healthcare for our soldiers, the ones who gave up their health in service to their country? Why not simplify the tax code, making it more fair for all citizens? I'm not suggesting you make it more profitable for corporations. Corporations are not people. You could bolster funding to our system of education, bringing new energy into our flagging technical skills. Now is the time for you to seek balance.

Most of your population has beliefs that lie in between the two party's creeds. I vote as a centrist. I voted for Reagan and Bush Sr. both times. Since then, I have voted as a Democrat because I haven't liked the Republican candidates. I still see myself in the center, hoping for progress in that direction while allowing the greatest amount of freedom for all people.

How can Republicans best serve the people of the United States? Jobs? The pursuit of technology? Education? President Reagan was pro-education. What about the conservative use of our natural resources? President Theodore Roosevelt created many of our National Parks. There are great Republicans who served our nation.

Millions of people have just voted on January 21 in the Women's March on Washington. Pay attention. These people protested what they saw as ignorant and profiteering moves by our incoming Executive branch of government, Trump and his inexpert and billionaire Cabinet.


Use your power in service to the people of the United States, not in opposition to President Obama. He is no longer in office! Look at what you want to achieve, at the legacy you intend to create. What is happening now is NOT it. You intend to confirm a leader of the Department of Energy who does not know what the DOE does and has a degree in animal husbandry. The intended leader for the Department of Education thinks bears enter the classroom and that teachers want to carry guns. The expected leader for the Department of Housing and Urban Development does not believe in supporting low income housing. An individual in the Oval Office has deep ties to Russia and is breaking the emoluments clause, making a profit from his position. Not only that, he brags about felony assault on women and is known for liquidating corporations for the cash he can get from them. He ignores most of his security briefings and taunts leaders of foreign countries he doesn't like. Plus, he costs a million dollars a day by staying at Trump towers. As a citizen, I don't want to pay for that. Are you just going to let all of this happen because you are still in the mindset of opposing President Obama? President Obama is no longer pushing back.

Be careful that you don't lose your balance and fall on your face.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Cut the Crap, Cheeto!

I've got a cold. My nose is running. My eyes feel like sandpaper. Dammit, the kitten woke me up an hour earlier than I needed. The best thing for my body today would be to lie in bed watching movies and eating chicken noodle soup.

But no way, Cheeto. I'm joining the Women's March on Washington. I will be counted among them.

All week, I tried to think of slogans for my banner:

Stop the madness!
Don't grab us!
Impeach! Use emoluments!
Pussy isn't all he's grabbing!

I like that one. It's plain. It expresses my emotions for yesterday perfectly.

Take no crap!
Cut off tiny hands!

None of these cover all my reasons for my fury. Yesterday, I read comments on Jenny Lawson's recent post and some women were saying that Trump's pussy grab language put them back into PTSD after they were raped. I can see that.

So, I'll march. I'll be silent if the organizers want that.

Here's one more:

It's a vigil, Asshole.

I like that one, but will Asshole know who he is? Will Pink Hair, Tiny Hands know I'm talking to him directly? Will he even be watching any of this? The word is that he's taking the weekend off after taking away home loans for low income people. Well, crap. In office for one day and the billionaire club is already stripping poor people of what little they have. Then, Tiny Hands congratulates himself and takes the weekend off.

Here are some more slogans:

No more grabbing pu$$y!
No deportations! No racism! No misogyny!
No way, Asshole in Chief!
Cut the crap, Cheeto!

I like that one too. I'm mad as hell and this energy will get me through today, just today. Fuck! I'm so incredibly pissed. I'll use this energy to get through the day. I will go, come hell, come virus, or come a 100,000 women. I will march and I will yell,


Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Good Reason to Spend the Night on the Bathroom Floor

So, I wanted to tell you about that first night with Blitz before it faded in my memory.

He had to go into the spare bathroom. Since he'd been given his last treatment for worms, he had to be isolated from Seth and Teddy. We also needed to see how they would do together before we set Blitz free in the house.

Somehow, I knew the animals would work themselves out. I figured that the first round of deworming medicine would do its job. Yet, I fixated on his status as a feral kitten.

The technicians at the vet clinic had spent as much time with the kittens as they could. They'd begun to fall in love with them. Still, I saw which kittens were individually loved more than the others because these kittens became more tame each time I saw them. I don't blame these people. The tiny kitten who'd been sick was so endearing when he quietly stepped onto my shin and huddled there on the day I'd visited all of the kittens in one room. It was easier to cuddle him into my arms than chase the others out from under the table. Blitz was still so fearful, running, spitting, and shivering whenever anyone picked him up.

I imagined him escaping from our spare bathroom and spending the next three days lost in an overcrowded closet in one of the bedrooms. And he could be so afraid, he might starve to death and back into some nether region of the house before we could dig him out.

Blitz was not going to get out of that bathroom. No way, no how I would have dead kittens starved to death in my walls. I've seen those crazy-cat-hoarders episodes. Dead cat skeletons behind an unfinished wall.

So, Nick and I sat on stadium seats on the bathroom floor. There was barely enough room for two along with the new litter box, the toilet, and the little box condominium I made Blitz out of two Amazon boxes, red and yellow flame duct tape, and fleece left over from ugly vests I cut out and never made.

I set the travel carrier on the floor an unzipped the side so Blitz could step out.

We waited.

"Mom, he's not coming out," Nick said.

So, I put my hands in the end of the carrier, wondered about infection in tiny kitten bites as Blitz spit and hissed. I dragged his tiny butt out of the dark corner and immediately handed him to Nick. Nick has a better touch, a better sense of cats than I do. He's the only one who can catch Seth when he runs out the front door for an escapade.

Nick looked down at the tiny kitten in his arms. 

There it was, the reason why all this bother was the right thing to do, that look on Nick's face. That tiny kitten with his head buried in his elbow. Once more, I knew that was reason enough for me to be the one to get Blitz through his first night in his new house, even if I had to stay up all night lying on the bathroom floor to do it

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Breakfast Dance for Fairness

I know I should be telling you about the first days of kitten. I'll get back to that, but right now, I need to tell you about food wars.

Every weekday morning, I get up at 5:50 am to work on my breakfast, a lunch for Nick, and food for Teddy, Seth, and Blitz. Yes, the kitten's name is Blitz.

Every morning, I stumble around in the dark before I get to the light switch in my kitchen. The problem is that Blitz hasn't figured out how to walk at my feet. One morning, before I found the light switch, I kicked him, totally by accident, like he was a football. I actually felt his little body lift into the air off my foot.

I dropped to my knees but he ran away. Then, I said, "Blitzen, are you hungry?" And he ran back to me as if I'd magically spouted creamed liver from my fingertips. That kitten is so gullible.

Then, I picked him up and petted him all over, making sure I hadn't broken any bones or ripped his tail off or anything. He purred as if breakfast was about to appear and then wiggled out of my arms. Whew!

The next morning, Blitz hadn't had enough of a lesson the previous day. Again in the dark as I was reaching for the light switch, he managed to get underfoot again. I stepped on his tail in my soft slippers and as the light blinked on, the poor guy swung around his squashed tail as if he was doing a maypole dance. There were long, agonizing microseconds after I saw him before my leg answered my brain command and let him go.

Back down on my knees, I tried to call him to me. Nothing. He was gone. "Blitz, are you hungry?" And there he was, as happy and cheerful as when I drop-kicked him, purring and looking for liver pate or maybe some salmon in my magic hands.

My knees are still sore, but he has yet to show any damage or even skill in walking around my feet in the morning. I think he knows that I don't mean to torture him. I hope he knows.

This morning, I did not kick him. I figured out - I know I'm a little late to the game - how to turn on that little flashlight on my phone. And I shuffle my feet instead of walking. It's safer that way, though I imagine I'm looking a little more like my grandma every day, shuffling one foot a couple of inches while gripping the walker with the purple tennis balls on the bottom of the legs before shuffling the second foot forward an inch or two.

So, by the time my eyes adjust to the bright of the fluorescent light, Blitz is standing on a little footstool I use to get the stuff off the top shelf of my cabinets. And he's leaning toward me and crying, a pathetic little cry where no sound comes out of his mouth. As I slide back and forth from the counter, to the fridge, to the spot where I keep the bowls, Blitz runs back and forth with me. I figure he gets a quarter mile in by the time it's his turn for breakfast. .

"Are you hungry, Blitzie?" I find one of those little wedges of pate in gelatin, Sheba. It's his favorite and I like it too because that stuff doesn't actually look like someone vomited and sealed it into a can. It smells good too. I wish they put their stuff into recyclable containers instead of plastic that's going to be floating in the Pacific ocean soon but we all have to pick our battles and non-vomit stuff that smells good goes a long way. "Are you hungry?" I say again and look down at him as he paces back and forth with me and leaps onto his footstool when I draw near to it.

"ow," he replies. His front paws wave in the air.

"Does your tail still hurt from yesterday?"

"ow," he replies. He looks so pathetic.

"Oh, poor baby munchkin."

"Yeah," he replies. And by then, I've tapped his tiny loaf of pate into a tiny bowl and he's stretched out long like a ferret, grabbing at the side of the cabinet. He hasn't learned how to jump as high as the counter yet, thankfully.

Then, I do a yoga stretch and bend down to put his tiny bowl onto the footstool. I stretch and pet him for a minute while he purrs, arches his back against my hand, and gulps his breakfast. I feel my hamstrings. I'm getting old and stiff but this helps.

Suddenly, Seth is in the room, threatening to shove Blitz out of his position. I quickly put some fat-cat food, Hills Metabolic, into another tiny bowl and put it on the washing machine in the laundry room. Then, I do a little weigh-lifting and pick up about seventeen and a half pounds of adult cat and put him in his position on the washer.

Then, I hear Teddy crying. I don't blame him. Teddy is always last to eat. I put half a can of his pate, Hills I/D, on top of a scoop of his kibbles and then I get ready, knees a little bent and eyes alert for the next step.

Blitz sees food in Teddy's bowl and abandons his pate for Teddy's stuff. Teddy backs out of the kitchen while Blitz gobbles as much of what has to be the good stuff as he can get. I pick him up and take him to the other end of the kitchen to his tiny abandoned bowl. Teddy edges back into the kitchen, but Blitz runs at him and dodges under his long legs to get to the dog bowl. Teddy is very polite.

The Hills I/D must be tasty stuff though it doesn't smell as good as the Sheba loaf. Seth finishes his fat-cat food, leaps off the washer with a thud, chases Blitz away from Teddy's food, and begins to dine. Seth will puke it all up if I don't put a stop to that. I pick him up and shuffle him away from the dog's bowl, trying not to drop-kick the underfoot kitten, who is certain that everyone is getting better food than him.

Did I tell you that Blitz's kibbles, Hill's Science Diet Kitten kibbles, lie abandoned in another tiny bowl under the footstool at all times? I think that when he's bored, Seth munches on them because he's gained an appreciable amount of weight since Blitz came to live at our house. I can tell when I weight-lift him for my daily routine that he's added a couple of one pound plates to the barbell.

Meanwhile, Teddy has retreated to the living room and is out there crying.

So, I walk into the laundry room. "Blitzen, are you hungry?" And there's my little Blitz, under each foot as I put it down, dodging out of doors as I try to close them ahead of him. Finally, I get the little guy locked into the laundry room where I put the abandoned fat-cat food onto the floor. Seth only ever licks the gelatin off of it anyway so it's nice that Blitz doesn't let it go to waste.

While Blitz is focused on food that has to be better than his own, I sneak out of the laundry room and find that Seth has eaten another chunk of Teddy's dog food. I'll find that in a wet pink pile in my sewing room later, I'm sure of it. I shoo him away and finally, Teddy comes into the kitchen while I stand sentry and he finally gets to eat.

Then, I get involved in making my own breakfast and miss Seth who rocks Blitz's tiny bowl as he finishes off the tiny wedge of pate, the best stuff in the house, according to the number of calories and protein involved.

Eventually, all the food is gone except dry kitten kibbles under the footstool and Teddy's dry dog kibbles. While I'm making Nick's lunch, Blitz will take out dry dog kibbles one by one and bat them around until he loses one under the refrigerator or the oven and goes to get another out of the bowl. Sometimes he eats them, but usually, he just plays with them and loses them. When I vacuum up those things, they rattle around in my vacuum cleaner as if it's broken. Blitz seems convinced that everyone gets better food than he does. So, he eats everyone's food, including his own.

Welcome to my new morning routine, the breakfast dance, and the beginning of my exercise regimen, my kitten's existential angst over fairness and equality.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Looking into My Son's Future

I wanted to keep telling you about Blitz. When we left off, we still hadn't picked him up. We hadn't even named him properly. They were calling him Yeager. Everything about our furry family was about to be thrown into the air. Everything was uncertain and exciting. That seems like a long time ago. A long, long time ago.

I was afraid our wild kitten would spend his first week cowering in that narrow space between the tub and the cabinet. But all worries aside, we were on our way to pick up our little munchkin. The poor baby was going to get shots before he came home, and an exam with a thermometer. How nasty was that? So I promised myself we'd sit quietly with him for a little while, just hold him for a bit first.

I'd planned to visit him that morning, but they called to have us pick him up instead. So, he had to wait until after I volunteered at school, after an appointment, after we got kitten food at the store, and after an exam with the vet. Well, crap.

Was he going to cry all night after we brought him home? I knew he would cry even if he didn't make a sound. He wouldn't see anything we did as care that first night, torn from his brothers and sister. There was no getting around it. He was going to be stuck with one hot mess until he realized we were okay, that the bathroom was safe, that the house was safe, that the strange cat and dog were safe. I wished we could have introduced Teddy at the clinic. I wished so many things. I wished we could take it calmly and slowly.

When we arrived, everyone was excited, taking pictures and thanking us. It was anything but calm and slow. But they kept thanking us for taking one of the little orphan kittens. It felt odd, really. I saw it as us finally bringing our baby home after waiting so long.

Nick was so excited. Any time you get a sixteen-year-old boy to grin like an idiot, you know you're doing it right. No amount of cool could wipe that look off his face. All through the exam, he held the baby. Nick's face was lit from within

Sometimes a mom looks at her son's future within the present. We can't help it. I imagined him with his own baby.

And it was a beautiful thing.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Inappropriate Gift Card Love

I'm relieved that Christmas is over.

I'm not good at the whole gift thing. I'm really not. When I'm walking out the door with a gift, wrapped as to be covered but not really decorated with care, I feel myself looking around the house for some abandoned item that might not be just a little bit better than the thing I chose. Pretty soon, I'll be wrapping up the cat and Jello molds like the dotty old aunt on Christmas Vacation.

I never was good at choosing gifts for people at Christmas in the first place. The gifts that used to fly out at me with a recipient's name on it as I was shopping or wandering some festival came at random during the year. They were timely, so when I would buy them and save them for the Christmas season, they began to look dowdy or weird when I tried to wrap them and stick a tag on them six months later at Christmas. Or worse, I forgot about them and bought my best friend something else. Then, I'd dig around in the secret place in my closet and find what used to be lovely and perfect a year and a half ago, but now is all cat-chewed and squashed. So, even if the idea of that gift was still perfect for my best friend, it was no longer perfect.

Some Christmases, there were people whose names on my list never inspired a thing, not a damned thing. Every year, I run into this same wall. I would be sitting on the couch watching TV with Mike and I'd have my pathetic and empty list in front of me. Anyone who liked books, my kind of books, was immediately covered. It was great. I could pick books until the cows came home.

By the time I was past the easy ones, the book lovers, my stomach would begin to roil. Lumps of the hockeypuck hamburger we had for dinner would flop, then settle down into a lump low in my gut. Gas would bubble up. Do I get gassy when I'm nervous? I can nearly burp my ABCs as it is. Add a little Perrier and I threaten to burst like a balloon before I vent.

The past couple of years, I've begun to buy most of my Christmas gifts online. Do you know how hard it is to browse when online? Oh, Amazon has it down with books. I look at one book and there are sixteen others that appear at the bottom of the screen, just bloating my reading list beyond what I actually have time to read. But when I'm looking at scarves, the sweaters and hats and totes and even belts don't come along the same way. They just don't. Amazon just shows more scarves, thousands of scarves.

And you never get to touch anything to see if it's really nice. Last spring, I went on Etsy for the first time and ordered a hand-painted silk scarf. Silk. That just exudes a nice feel doesn't it? A silk scarf should easily be silky. Nope. That thing arrived and it was a hunk of stiff fabric, a little like what I imagine a crinoline hair shirt would feel like on my skin. What happened to silky? It was beautiful, but there was no silky about that silk. I gave it to my best friend anyway. What was I supposed to do?

So now, I've noticed I'm getting worse. I'm old. I don't like to shop. The mall is a perfumed, high-heeled Botoxed, pushup bra nightmare, but you can't get good Christmas gifts at the grocery store. I buy a lot of gift cards, but even then, I'm not entirely sure if the recipients would actually shop at those stores. Wouldn't it be easier to hand them a wad of cash? But then they'd hand me a wad of cash and existential angst would make my gut begin to rumble.

So, I buy Old Navy cards for my nieces, the ones who don't like to read, hoping that the Old Navy styles are as cute in real life as they look on TV. And I love the look on Amy Shumer's face when she runs into her ex at the mall in that commercial. Yeah, Old Navy cards. But my nieces don't send thank you notes so I can never tell by their enthusiasm or tepid responses whether I've nailed it or not.

Then, there's the need to keep all the gifts at about the same value. Except that I forget, when I'm buying for one, what I already spent for another last week. I just hope that it's about the same, but I'm pretty sure it isn't. Do I have a niece who's heart is broken because I loved her sister just a little bit more than her this year?

That's the problem. It's never good enough because every pathetic gift and gift card could never match up with my love for them. And for those in-laws that I can only pretend to love, will they see right through my pathetic sham of a gift and know the truth about how I feel?

And there is Mike. Mike is so good at thinking of the perfect gift. He can really think about that person that I'm lamenting over on my list. He can think of their interests and side interests. He can imagine what they like to wear. He knows that I should never buy a gift for that family member who's an expert woodcarver from among the woodcarving tools online because everything that expert already has is going to be better and more finely tuned to his needs that what I can afford. A commercial will come on and I'm uselessly repeating a person's name from my list, my gut settled into a hard lump like an extra cat on my lap.

"Susanne, Susanne. What do I buy for Susanne. I have no idea what to get Susanne this year. Last year, I got her a scarf. Do you think she'd notice if I bought her a new scarf to replace that hair-shirt scarf I bought her last year?"

"Why don't you get Susanne a leather tote bag?" Mike would say. "She's got to have a lot of stuff to haul back and forth to class."

A tote bag for Susanne! It's perfect. She'll really know how much I love her if I buy her a leather tote bag. And then we move on to the next recipient. Mike is behind any good idea. I'm telling you now. Otherwise I'd be getting inappropriate gift cards. And inappropriate gift card love is never perfect.

Thank you for listening, jb