Friday, September 27, 2013

My cat phobia

I was not always afraid of cats.

When I was a child, we had some neighbors, the Berls.  The Berls had a big, lazy orange cat named Rusty.  I can remember squatting next to Rusty on their hot driveway, stroking his soft, sun-warmed orange fur while he snoozed.  I was not afraid of Rusty.

My mother hated cats.  And my sister was terrified of them.  I was proud of myself that I did not share this weakness, that I had invincible cat tolerance.  I did not particularly like the slow, silent way they had of turning their heads and looking at a person, and I didn't like the sharp claws that protruded from their otherwise soft and flexibly limp bodies.  But I was tough.  I could deal with cats.

One day when I was a teenager, I accepted a baby-sitting job for a lady I did not know.  She had two little boys, and she ordered us a pizza for dinner.  She said we could eat it in the living room in front of the TV.  She also had a cat.

We ate as much of the pizza as we cared for, and then I got the boys off to bed, leaving the pizza in its box on the coffee table.  After tucking in the little ones, I returned to the living room to tidy up after dinner, only to find the cat atop the pizza, slowly nibbling at it in typical catlike fashion.  The sight repulsed me, and I tried to shoo the cat off the food.  It stood its ground and looked at me, as if to say, "I dare you.  I just dare you."  In that moment, panic gave rise to a deep fear.  I did not know what to do.  The little boys were in bed, and I was alone in the house with this obstinate, odious creature.

My inner compass screamed to me that it was neither right nor good for a cat to be on top of a pizza on top of a coffee table in a living room.  Although I wanted to flee the house, taking my chances in the dark streets, heading on foot for my cat-free home and the comforting presence of my parents, I mustered all the courage I had and stayed.

Pleading with God to help me, I removed a large pillow from the couch and used it to push the cat from its perch.  I do not remember much about this, just the sickening sense that the cat continued to resist me and tried to regain its position over the food a number of times with the cloying stickiness of gum that cannot be scraped from the sole of a shoe.

Dogs just don't do things like that.

When I finally freed the pizza, I grasped it quickly, sloppily, in its mangled box, and rushed it to the kitchen counter.  It was defiled, so I did not know what to do with it, whether to throw it away.  Honestly, I cannot remember what I did with it.

I returned to the living room and sat down on the couch, hoping to pass time quickly with a TV show until the mother returned.  Perhaps I was hoping the cat would stay in the kitchen with the pizza.  My memory is very foggy from this point on, except for the points of trauma, which I remember in stark detail.

The cat approached me on the couch and climbed onto my lap.  It sat there heavy, as cats can make themselves, staring at me.  I choked on a gag.  Every cell of my skin went electric, and I broke out in a nauseated sweat.  I didn't know if I could breathe, if I would vomit, if I would wet my pants.  I began more panicked prayers and slowly reached for the large pillow again, a barrier I could erect between myself and this vile animal.

Most of the ensuing events, I have involuntarily blocked from my mind.  I do know that somehow, in my desperation, I used the pillow to force the cat down into the basement, whereupon I closed the basement door, checking and double checking the latch.

For the rest of the evening, I sat and shook while shivers ran up and down my back, causing me to cringe at unpredictable intervals.  The cat yowled and scratched at the basement door, now and then extending a clawed foot through the space at the bottom of the door.

When the mother returned, I told her that the cat was in the basement.  She never asked me back.  I would not have gone if she had.

Since that time, I have never wanted to be around a cat.

There have been times when I was almost OK with cats, and times when their presence has filled me with inexpressible dread.  Generally, I am not as afraid if there are plenty of people around to buffer a feline presence from me.  Proximity is a big deal, too.  For instance, I could maybe walk past a cat outside if it were in a yard and I were in the street, but if the cat was in the middle of a street I was walking on, and I was alone, I would turn and go a different way, preferably not the opposite way, because it is not comforting for me to know that there may be a cat behind me which I cannot see.  I would never pass a cat on a sidewalk.  My worst case scenario is to be alone in a house with a cat.  Ugh.  I can barely type that thought.

My husband loves cats.  He wanted to get one as a pet for our children.  We had some friends whose cat birthed kittens, and I went to see them, tiny, sleepy things with their eyes not even open.  I thought, "I can do this.  I am not afraid of these kittens."  A few weeks later we went back to pick one up, and they were barbarous, leaping varmints with sharp claws and hunter instincts.  "Which one do you want?" our friends asked us.  I looked for a gentle, sleepy one, but there was none to be found.  I told Shawn, "Let's wait until tomorrow.  We don't even have a litter box.  We can't take one tonight."

That night, I dreamed of cats.  I dreamed I was in my mother's laundry room, where a cat had attached itself to my arm and was eating the flesh away from my elbow to my hand.  It was not painful, but it was petrifying, and I could not disengage the cat from its mission to expose my bones.  I woke up in a sweat and asked Shawn, "Can we please not get a cat?  Please?"

At times, I have been able to exercise all of my fortitude and be polite about cats, and at other times, I have simply crumbled into a nervous wreck in the presence of cats.  There was the time we were at a Bible study in the home of some people with a cat.  They put it away because I was afraid, but I didn't realize that they had merely removed it, they had not contained it.  At one point, when I left the group to feed my baby, the cat stalked me and appeared, an ominous, undulating presence threatening me from the doorway of the room where I was then trapped, alone.  That gave me nightmares for weeks and set me back about ten years in my learn-to-abide-cats endeavors.

There was also the time Shannon was taking a flute lesson.  The flute teacher, a renowned symphony player in Syracuse, was the nicest woman in the world, and always shut her cats up when I was there.  But that particular day, for some reason, the cats were in the room next to where I was waiting, and not in the bedroom upstairs.  I kept hearing them jump at the doorknob, and the doorknob would shudder.  I tried to focus on the book I was reading, but my body went all prickly and hyper-alert.  At one point there was a crash as a cat threw itself against the door that separated it from me, and in the corner of my eye I saw a sleek gray body swell out of the room.  Gulping back nausea, I bolted the opposite direction and burst right into the flute studio, right in the middle of the lesson.  There I crouched, hyperventilating in a fetal position.  The kind teacher raced out to see what was up with the cat.  In the end, it had not escaped at all.  It was only my fearful imagination.  But the teacher was an incredibly kind person who continued to be willing to teach Shannon anyway.

At a certain point, I just gave up.  I am not strong.  Cats scare me.  I am not afraid that they are going to bite me or scratch me or attack me.  I am afraid that a cat will touch me.  That is my fear, and I have given up trying to conquer it.

But I do try to work on my attitude, if not my ability.  When I think of cats, instead of thinking about how much I am repulsed by them and fearful of them, I try to remind myself, "God made the cats.  God made the cats, too."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Today I took Schubert for a walk in the meadow across the road.

All of the trails in the meadow have little signposts that say, "5 mile trail," with an arrow pointing up.  This is hilarious to me, even though it means I am afraid to venture too far off the paved bike trail, for fear of walking five miles forever.

It was yet another perfect, beautiful, golden sun shining day.

The sky is so open here, it spreads from side to side in a most delightful way, leaving bounteous space for the fields to stretch out golden with their autumn cornstalks.  Sharing the expanse, acres of goldenrod mirror the sunshine, punctuated by the occasional purple flowers on a gravelroot.  I can turn around in a circle, viewing farmland, fences, groves of trees, low rolling hills, power lines, and off in the distance--because I can see so far--trucks.

It smells good.  I can't describe it, it just smells good.  Earth and sky and sunshine, ripe corn, decaying leaves, bruised grass.  The air feels good in my lungs.  Open, plentiful, limitless.

The sky is so blue.  I'd forgotten that the sky could be blue like this, every day.  I love the sky, all garnished with perfect white clouds, like so many plops of whipped cream floating deliciously above my head.  Maybe that sounds silly, but it's exactly how I felt out there under them.  I wanted to lick a cloud and taste it; they looked that good.

The world is green, yellow, blue and white, and extremely bright.  All things bright and beautiful, says the hymn, all things bright and beautiful.

It's a little bit too hot for the jeans I'm wearing; I should have come in shorts.  Schubert pads along at the end of his leash, jerking my arm when he stops and sniffs, catching scents of rabbits and deer, wondering.  He pants gently, but he doesn't bark.  It is very peaceful in the meadow.  A high school cross-country team is practicing now, silently running, breathing, rubber shoes making one soft thud after another on the trail.  They pass Schubert and me in groups of one or two, swiftly, their bodies glistening with sweat.  I can hear them draw their rhythmic breaths, but they do not speak, not to me and not to each other.

In the silence, cicadas rasp and birds chirp; crickets, too.  Everything is at peace and yet so very much alive.  I have never seen so many butterflies; they appear flickering like special effects in a cheesy movie, except they are real, pure white, solid yellow, now and then a fancy one.

So quiet.  Color has exploded into my life, but the sound has disappeared.  There is nobody to talk to.  At the end of the day when Shawn comes home, he has used up all his words at work, and I have nothing to tell him because nothing has happened to me.   We sit calmly across from one another at the table, and nobody tells us funny stories about what happened in the classroom or suspenseful stories about what happened in the lab.  We are very polite.  We smile and try to be encouraging to each other.  We are tired.

Can beauty compensate for silence?

Would you rather be blind or deaf?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails... well, maybe not snails.

The other day I was walking my dogs around the lake.  We had arrived at the nature trail section of the route, which is, generally, the easiest part.  Soft, earthy paths to walk on, no cars driving past, and usually no other people or pets, either.  It is a verdant, secluded walk through the shady woods, and even on oppressively hot days I feel comfortable and protected back there.

As we meandered along, a motion on the ground caught my eye.  Glancing over, I saw a small black snake with long yellow stripes slithering sideways across the trail.  Startled, I caught my breath as my heart began to pound, just a little bit.

"It's ok," I told myself.  "It is only a snake.  You are not afraid of snakes.  You are only afraid of mice.  And rats.  And cats."  Immediately, I felt ever so much better.  I am only afraid of rodents and felines, not reptiles.

...unless the reptile is a giant, flesh-eating crocodile lurking in the bayou.  I am afraid of those, but anybody would be.

What are you afraid of?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Life in the empty nest

I can go to bed as early as I want to now.

We only run the dishwasher a couple times a week, instead of every day.

I only wash laundry once a week or so, instead of nearly every day.

The milk lasts a long time.

Often, we find leftovers in the refrigerator.

I always have a car.  But I never go to Wegman's.

Nobody comes into our bedroom late at night to stand at the foot of the bed and have a heart-to-heart talk.

We don't need to pick a church based on whether it has a healthy youth group, or a clean nursery, or really, any kids' programs whatsoever.

Nobody ever plays the piano anymore.  Or any other instrument.

We wound up the mantle clock, and it is running now, ticking away, because its timekeeping won't mess with anybody's practice tempos.

Nobody calls me mom, as in, "Hey, mom..."

There are no jackets or other articles of clothing hanging on the backs of my kitchen chairs.

Evenings are particularly different.  I was used to a certain amount of quiet during the day, which I could break up by setting up a lunch date now and then with a friend, or going to a Bible study.  But in the evenings, the house used to come alive with food, conversation, interaction, as one person after another came home with their appetites and anecdotes.  No more.  Shawn comes home, and we eat, just the two of us, calmly and neatly.  Clean-up takes about five minutes, and then the dark of evening creeps into the house as we yawn and think about going to bed.

There are no backpacks lying around by the doors.

I don't have a marching band schedule on my desk.

The singing, the ruminating, the shared stories about what happened today, the hanging out, the coordinating rides, work schedules, weekend activities... it is all gone.  Boom.  Just like that. 

We live quiet now, and there is little need to drive around.

I should like this, right?

Well, it does cost a whole lot less when we go out to eat...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bath fail

My neck and (especially) ears are cold,
because I pinned up my hair
because I took a bath
because I didn't want to wash my hair today
because it is all falling out
from Lupus.

My bathtub here is huge and has jets.  I did not want a whirlpool tub, but all the houses seem to have them here, except the one that had a soaking tub, which I liked, but Shawn didn't like that house.  Well, it was smaller than this one, and our furniture doesn't fit here, so it's probably a good thing I listened to my husband.

He also told me that with Lupus, I might enjoy a jetted tub.  So the other day I set out to take a luxurious bath.  I've got it, I might as well use it.  Right?

I don't think our hot water heater is quite big enough to fill the jetted tub.  But I worked on filling it up with warm water, and I added some scoops of Epsom salts to soothe the aches while I soaked.  Then I thought, "How about some essential oils, too?  How about peppermint?  That might feel good on the old joints."  And I sprinkled in a few drops.

As I lowered my body into the tub, I immediately felt a sense of panic.  The peppermint oil on my skin burned, but then it made me feel cold.  Either it was the peppermint oil, or the fact that there had not been quite enough hot water, but I realized that I was breaking out in goosebumps.

You are supposed to soak in Epsom salts for 20 minutes, so I dutifully checked my cellphone for the time and, shivering, sunk down to my neck, hoping my temperature would adjust.

I found myself gritting my teeth, furrowing my brow, and counting to pass the minutes,  "Seventy-eight, seventy-nine, eighty, eighty-one," went my thoughts when I checked in on them, and I wondered why I did not remember having started at one, or even ten.  I willed myself to relax but found that my skin was too cold, or too burning from peppermint, or something.

Finally I reasoned that a bath should be relaxing, and since this ordeal was stressing me out, I should try to find a remedy.  I drained half the water out of the tub and turned the tap back on.  After about three gallons of cold-to-lukewarm had run in, it finally got hot.  I lay back and swirled the warmth around to mix it in.  Things were looking up.  Even the uncomfortable peppermint oil had been diluted in the process.

I felt better.  I thought, "Perhaps I ought to try the jets."  I had a niggling fearful thought about used jets in a used whirlpool tub in a used house, but I pushed it aside and turned them on.  I leaned my head on the back of the tub and closed my eyes.

Jets are loud.  And they sort of vibrate the tub in a way that made my head ache after a few minutes.  I opened my eyes and looked around.  Across the top of the water, air bubbles were rising, but they were sort of slimy, and something murky and brown swirled across their surfaces before they burst.  A sludgy brown tub ring was forming around the edge of the tub, and it was especially thick, I found, right behind where my neck had been lying.

"Great," I thought.  "I try to take a bath, and I end up giving myself a staph infection or something."  I turned off the jets and began to drain the tub, turning the tap back on in an attempt to find a water source from which to clean myself after the disastrous effects of my bath.

Once dressed, I scrubbed the sludge out of the tub and went off to search Google regarding: "How to clean your tub jets."  Thereafter I spent the rest of the morning running bleach and dishwasher detergent through my tub jets, and then cycling clear water to rinse it all out again.   I also learned that if you are going to use your jets at all, you need to use them often, and keep them rinsed out and fresh, following up with bleach and dishwasher detergent treatments twice a month.

This seems like a lot of work and tremendous waste of water.

I am puzzling over ways to get some of this jet-maintenance water piped down onto our yard.  It has rained less than 1/8 inch over the 6-7 weeks we have lived here, and the flora is crisp and brown.

It would be nice if we could replace this whirlpool with a simple soaking tub.  But in the scheme of things, that project is on a timeline for after I'm dead.

Nevertheless, I did my frequent-bath duty today and took a bath again, in my now-clean tub.  However, I only ran the jets when I was ready to get out, and then again with a cold water rinse.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Apple Crisp... for Shannon

Apple Crisp

The topping:
1 and ½ cups packed brown sugar
1 cup whole wheat flour (white flour is ok, but I prefer whole wheat)
1 cup oats (oatmeal flakes)
1 cup butter
1 cup walnuts
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. clove

Pulverize this all together in a food processor, if you have one.  In the absence of a food processor, soften the butter and chop the walnuts fine before combining the ingredients.  Set aside

The rest:
Peel and slice about 12 apples, give or take, depending on how big they are.
Place them in a buttered 9x13 glass baking dish.  It should be 2/3 full.
Sprinkle 1/3 cup orange juice over the apples.
Sprinkle lightly with nutmeg.
Top with topping (above).
Bake at 350 for an hour or until the top is golden brown and the apples are bubbling deliciously.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Right ouside my door...

This is our new house.  The sun always shines here.  The grass is actually starting to get a bit crispy from all the sunshine, but we are focusing on settling and unpacking.  You can't do everything all at once.  Since we moved in at the end of July, we decided the yard will have to wait until next spring.

If you go out on our back deck and look to the left, you can just see the tip of the lake (click on the picture for a larger view, if you can't see it).  It is in the center of this picture.  The neat, terraced garden belongs to our neighbor.  In the lower right corner, just above our deck rail, you can see the chest-high weeds the previous owners left for us in our vegetable garden.  Shawn thinks there is also some asparagus.  Here's hoping.  At any rate, I plan to put in some rhubarb as early as possible next spring.  I am really excited to try growing rhubarb again.

If you stand behind our house and look to the right, this is what you see.  Our yard is quite shallow and wide.  Neighbors live all around us, but the trees and bushes give us a tremendous amount of privacy and a nice, woodsy feel.

This is the view down into the back yard from the side of the garage.  It is rather park-like, shady and pleasant.

On this particular day it was about 95 degrees, but I decided to take the doggies for a walk.  Walking to the left, you would leave our neighborhood. I am quite delighted by the fact that every time I leave the neighborhood, I come face-to-face with a massive cornfield.  Sorry about the crooked horizon.  My camera is not working well, but more significantly, I had two dogs on leashes looped over my wrist, and it was really difficult to snap pictures before they jerked my arm around.

There are some sidewalks in our neighborhood.  I really like sidewalks!  Here you see the dogs.  They are hot in this picture, but not as hot as they got later in the walk.

One of the things I particularly love about our neighborhood is how different all the houses are from each other.  However, I didn't want to creep out the neighbors by taking pictures of their houses.  So as we walked up into the neighborhood, I refrained.  However I wanted to get a shot of the little neighborhood beach:
This little beach has picnic tables and grills, and the kids actually do swim here!  Today there is a neighborhood picnic there in honor of Labor Day, but it remains to be seen whether I will be brave enough to venture down.

Just beyond the beach, there is a path that leads around the bottom of the lake and into the park.  To the immediate left of this path sits a very woodsy house with a little gurgling waterfall in a tangled garden that is a pleasure to pass by.  But I wanted to preserve their privacy, so I did not photograph it.

As you follow the path, as I mentioned, you come around the bottom point of the lake.  Here is a pretty view:

And here is a full view, looking up towards the backs of the houses on our cul de sac.  The lake is shaped like a Y, and this is taken from the bottom of the Y, looking up. Our house would be off to the left, at the tip of the left fork of the top of the Y.  You can see the backs of our neighbors' houses, in the crook of the Y.  The neighborhood children like to ride a paddleboat out to that dock, and dive off it.

Because our neighborhood is attached to the park, there are signs like this, to keep park visitors from trespassing into "our" lake.
Shawn always wonders what kind of prosecution would be inflicted on a violator?  A night in the town jail?  Forty lashes?

All around the lake lie boats, upside down.  We wonder if they are ever used.  We wonder if they belong to specific people, or if they are there for community use.  Because of the tone of the signs, we do not mess with the boats.

This is the path that leads into the park.  I find it quite magical.
It goes up a little hill, and at the top you can go off to the left, which takes you deeper into the park, or you can go to the right, which leads you along the west side of the lake (although it is mostly obscured by brush), and ultimately back into our neighborhood.

The dogs were really hot, so we decided to stick close to home.

Here are some pictures of the rest of the walk.  I quite enjoy taking the dogs on this walk, and I think they like it too.  Although, I think they enjoy it more on a cooler day.

At the end of this particular path, you come to another place where you can turn either to the left, which would take you back into the park proper...

Or you can turn to the right and get back into the neighborhood...

You feel quite as if you are walking through somebody's yard as you enter and exit the park from the neighborhood, but there are signs like this one to put you at ease...

The dogs were panting and ready to go home, but I really enjoy these walks.  It has been a huge blessing to be able to go for walks in the park.  We are very thankful for our new location with all its beauty, nature and sunshine.
And we are thankful for some cultivated flowers that, by some miracle, survived the transition between homeowners and a full week with no water.