Ailurophobe or Ailurofan?

This past year, my retirement entertainment reading has included Lillian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who…” series. The stories combined some of my favorite things (no pink-satin sashes for me): mystery, cats and small-town life. The plots tend to be predictable with the cat-hating ailurophobe being the murderer, but her description of cat behavior is always right on. She romanticizes small-town life which is in keeping with my fantasy of living in a small town. I’m on number twenty-eight. There are only thirty in the series, and since Ms. Braun died ten years ago, that will be it. It will be time to move on. I’ll be looking for something light and happy to read next. I’m always looking for something light and happy.

My friend Rikka moved to the four-corners area of New Mexico after extensive travels. I’ve followed her family’s travels since she was a co-worker of mine around seven years ago (ahhh, work, the thought can still be frightening). Theirs is an adventurous family, having traveled extensively and calling many things home, including a schooner named Wind Dancer. Now that they’ve settled in Northwestern New Mexico, they’ve opened their home to more animals (and more animal species) than I can keep track of, and they’re not even retired. They have dogs, cats, bunnies, birds and fish. Their young daughter, adopted while they were in Guam, looks so happy among her many siblings (human and other animals) in the many photos they post on Facebook. Their posts will be a nice segue into my next reading endeavor.

While I have not loved, nor owned, as many animals as Rikka and family, I have loved all of the animals I have owned, starting with my first pet, Snoopy the rat. She was a former lab rat that retired to our family’s home. We taught her to jump from our knee to the coffee table and back. We loved that rat. Next came Vigaro the cat. He was a big Maine Coon. We loved that cat. After I left home there was a long succession of cats, a few dogs, a half dozen ferrets, turtles and then more cats. Our ferrets were famous for their industrious and fastidious tidying of our home (moving beanie babies, shoes and visiting family members’ underwear from wherever they found them to under their bed of choice). One of our ferrets was discovered missing shortly after starting the dishwasher. We quickly opened the dishwasher to find a waterlogged unconscious ferret in the hot water standing in the bottom. We grabbed her, revived her, rubbed her ears with our hands that had been cooled with ice and her gums with water mixed with corn syrup. We loved that ferret (and all of our other ferrets).

I enjoy watching videos on the internet of animals behaving with total acceptance and unconditional love for other animals and people. I’ve been bitten by ferrets and dogs and scratched by cats and I still think that those animals were better behaved than some people. I’m blessed to have amazing (well-behaved – except when it’s more fun to not be well-behaved) friends and to have had wonderful (even when not well-behaved) pets. Animals and life are good!

Heishi, second of many ferrets.

The Great Hibernation

Historically, we’ve had lots of “greats.” They include The Great Depression (I had one of those a few weekends ago), The Great Recession, The Great Chicago Fire, The Great Famine, The Great Train Robbery, and The Great War, just to name a few. Historically, “Great” can be terrifying. I’ve decided the last twelve months have been my Great Hibernation. It has been a little terrifying. My parents survived The Great Depression, and The Great Recession. They both died before the pandemic, a.k.a. The Great Hibernation. They came and went at will their entire lives. Family and friends have determined that neither of them would have thrived in the pandemic-required social isolation.

My children, grandchildren and I have earned the right to tell those not-yet-born, “Yep, I survived The Great Hibernation/Coronavirus pandemic.” Unlike some of those aforementioned “Greats,” the pandemic has had some positive outcomes. People have been incredibly inventive and flexible. Children learned at home. Adults worked from home. Animals found homes. I’m not saying it’s been easy. So many have lost livelihoods, and family and friends. This great has been much like those other greats in that regard.

Back to the hibernation analogy. Wikipedia defines hibernation as, “a state of minimal activity and metabolic depression. Hibernation is a seasonal heterothermy characterized by low body-temperature, slow breathing and heart-rate, and low metabolic rate. It most commonly occurs during winter months.” The metabolic depression explains “the Coronavirus five” pound weight gain experienced by me and many others. Because this was a “GREAT” Hibernation, it spanned two winters and included the seasons between. I’m a huge proponent of mask wearing as evidenced by my manufacture of over 150 masks. Sadly, the masks I made were uncomfortable to wear resulting in slow breathing by the wearer; hibernation. As for “heterothermy,” what the heck is that? Well, according to Wikipedia it’s, “a physiological term for animals that vary between self-regulating their body temperature, and allowing the surrounding environment to affect it.” Yeah, we did that during the pandemic too (I think).

We’re rolling up our sleeves and getting vaccinated. We’re coming out of our self-regulated, temperature-controlled environments. It’s GREAT that we’re coming out of pandemic-induced hibernation. Let’s be nice and have a Great Awakening. Life is good.

Awakening Pansies

Writing

These days, I write a blog. In days gone by, I wrote letters. In the mid-nineties, I wrote a letter to Kathie Lee Gifford in response to a statement she made in an interview, saying that anyone could be as wealthy as she and her husband, if they worked as hard as she and her husband. She made the statement in response to criticism about sweat-shop conditions for migrant workers employed to make her line of clothing. I said in my letter, that for some, no matter how hard they worked (and many worked unimaginably hard) they’d never escape poverty, much less be rich. I never received a reply.

I wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton, thinking she would win the 2016 election, saying that I believed she would win, and asking her to fight for a better world for all grandchildren, including hers and mine. It was a call for grandmother solidarity in the fight to protect the future of the planet for grandchildren everywhere. I never received a reply. It was a contentious election, so I understood.

Blog writing has not put an end to my letter writing. I recently wrote to the Dental Board of the State of New Mexico. I asked that they encourage dental practitioners to provide patients seeking dental implants with information regarding the timeframe involved for the process (it takes months – unlike what is illustrated in commercials promoting the process) and the cost (I was given a quote for “implants” but wasn’t told until the day the posts were surgically installed that I would have to return to my dentist for costly “crowns”). Drat. I never received a reply.

Some might think I would give up letter writing, but I have received lovely replies to letters I’ve written to friends and family. That’s all the encouragement I need (the secret’s out). Thank you!

Spring is behaving this week (unlike last week) just in time for Easter. Life is good. The jury is still out on letter writing.

Bee on my rosemary bush.

Spring and Stuff

I’ve been going round and round trying to decide what to write about this week. It’s been a mental musical chairs without music, chairs or much in my mind. The going in circles part, I’ve got down. I’ve been thinking about stuff, because it’s everywhere. I’ve been thinking about Spring, because it’s been elusive, since hitting the calendar last Saturday.

The “stuff” thing took centerstage in my mind (yes that scary place where I spend most of my time) when, while driving, I saw a homeless person pushing one overflowing grocery cart while pulling behind him, two more bound together by a heavy strap. It appeared burdensome. I thought, wow, even the homeless are weighed down by stuff. When my Dad died, and my siblings and I gathered to clean out our childhood home, there was a lot of stuff; my parents’ treasures. They had worked to collect those treasures, and we were left to work to dispose of the treasures. Rather than, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasures;” it was a case of “one man’s treasures are another man’s trash.” Stuff is ambiguously seductive.

So, what about Spring? It, too, is ambiguously seductive. My grandchildren and I spent the first full day of Spring pulling weeds from the rocks in my xeriscaped front yard. Weeds had popped up during the warm final days of Winter. By the fourth full day of Spring, Spring had donned her dominatrix outfit and whipped Albuquerque about the buttocks and back of the legs with branch limbs, ice and sometimes trees. Stuff (ha!, get the connection?) was everywhere. I hope the city’s homeless had enough stuff to keep themselves warm.

As I sat in my house, watching snow and my yard furniture swirl around my backyard, I created a community (I’ve been longing for community during the pandemic) in my mind (yeah, we’re back there again). In this community, people live in boxcars that surround an octagonal round house (there are eight boxcars). The people gather in the round house for meals and fellowship, and retire to the boxcars to sleep and engage in peaceful contemplation. There’s not a lot of space for stuff, but there are enough people to help each other when the weather or emotions make a mess. I hope all of the people are nice, sincere, honest and empathetic. The community will be a happier place if they are.

The sun is trying to come out. Life is good. I better go out in my yard and try to right my backyard furniture and gather and dispose of the felled branches. Life is good, but it ain’t easy.

Spring pansies plus small wind-blown branches.

Maximus Caticus

Max was a big cat. Friend Mayra reminded me of this, when she told me that her daughter remembered Max as “the biggest cat she had ever seen.” Max was NOT a gentle giant. He was a fierce hunter and fighter. Those were the traits that brought Max to our home. When our son and his wife brought home their first born, they asked us if we could bring home Max. Thus, began the establishment of what our son-in-law deemed our “cat retirement home.” Years later, one of their cats retired to our home.

Max was a big cat. Max was headmaster of The School of Unconditional Love of Cats. It was a tough school; like one of those English boarding schools where the headmaster beats the kids if he believes them to have misbehaved. The school had many rules. Max allowed three pet strokes. If you proceeded with a fourth, he drew blood from the offending hand. Max patrolled the hall leading from the living room to the bedrooms with the ferocity of a gang boss protecting his turf. Many a calf felt the incision of his incisors while, what Max interpreted as not-so-innocently, traversing his territory. We loved Max.

Max would lay down beside you, with his head on your arm, purring loudly (until you moved and then he would bite you – moving wasn’t allowed). Max was a huge believer in the adage, love hurts. Max was a big cat.

Max was followed by Gravity (Jessie and Neil’s cat – according to Jessie, she fell from the sky, hence the name Gravity), and now my beautiful rescue cat, Cinnamon. I was well trained by Max, and have loved each of these cats unconditionally. It’s a good thing, because each of them required unconditional love. I have been rewarded with love from each of them, along with an occasional bite. Love may hurt, but life and cats are good.

Headmaster Max
Big-boy Max

Let The Sun Shine

My mini daffodils persevered through the late February polar vortex to bloom in March. Way to go daffodils! March in New Mexico is a tease. It can be seventy degrees one day, and cold and snowy the next. I’m not sure which the daffodils prefer. I simply prefer the daffodils – rays of sunshine in my backyard.

Daffodils reflecting the sunshine.

I have a love/hate relationship with my backyard. I love the out-of-doors refuge that it provides. I even love the work it requires. I can’t say that it’s less expensive than a gym (yard maintenance can be very expensive, even when doing the work yourself), but it is a very rewarding way to get some exercise. I have severe allergies so working in it in the Spring requires lots of tissue and antihistamines (antihistamines make me grumpy, so I try to be a daffodil, and persevere without them). Backyards also invite mosquitos which then dine on the table of Jennie’s ankles. It is an unholy communion that irritates throughout the day and night.

I love to sit inside and plan my Spring backyard planting. It’s all so beautiful in my mind and my plan never includes allergies or mosquitos. My mind, like my backyard, vacillates between a beautiful place to visit and an uncomfortable scary place, even when there are no mosquitos.

My backyard houses my She Shed, a small pergola and deck, a labor-intensive saltillo-tiled patio and many memories. My backyard has evolved. There is currently much less grass than there was when we bought the house. Both the peach and mimosa trees were casualties of our home ownership. The yard now is home to many herbs, which I use to make herbal remedies, and flowers, which I use to make me smile, and a small patch of Bermuda grass which uses me to fulfill its sadistic goals of irritating skin, eyes, and nose.

My backyard has been the site of many gatherings of family and friends. Other times, I have sat alone on the deck and enjoyed the beauty and solitude of nature (until a mosquito buzzes by, and then I go inside). My Rosemary bush is beckoning. It likes to share its scent with me and its pollen with bees. It’s a nice Rosemary bush. My backyard and life are good.

Ticket to Ride

Phil and I both had passports that went unused. Mine expired before being used and Phil expired before using his. That was not very nice to him. I had gotten mine in 2008 when Wheel of Fortune still gave “a lucky wheelwatcher” the trip won in that night’s Prize Puzzle. Apparently, I was not a “lucky wheelwatcher” despite being a prepared-to-travel wheelwatcher. Phil had gotten his in hopes of riding his 1989 Harley Davidson ElectraGlide from New Mexico to Canada. He had ridden it up to Washington state, but had to stop at the Canadian border because he did not then have a passport. I got my passport in 2008 and it expired in 2018. Phil got his passport in 2018 and he expired in 2019. The international travel Wheel of Fortune never seemed to land on Phil or me.

Phil, happily riding his “bike.”

I have traveled domestically. While working in research, I traveled to cities all around the country to assist with clinical trial kick-offs. I loved getting to see my Country and would always try to see as much as possible at the different locations. While I’m always ready to rejoice in my retiree status, I remain extremely grateful for the travel opportunities I was afforded while working.

I do have an easily-renewed PBS Passport (a mere $75 annual donation) which allows me to stream the many wonderful and often exotically set programs they broadcast. I love to travel to the High Dells of Yorkshire while watching “All Creatures Great and Small.” I have seen the beauty of Corfu in Greece while watching “The Durrells in Corfu.” Like Zoom meetings, I don’t have any travel time and don’t need to be overly concerned about my appearance (with Zoom, from the shoulders down; however, in all honesty I look bad from the shoulders down no matter what I do and not much better from the shoulders up), but unlike Zoom meetings, there’s no social interaction. Being that I’m socially-awkward, it keeps me from reflecting badly on the United States, which is a good thing. My PBS Passport has allowed me to further my domestic travels also. I’ve rejoiced in, “The Black Church,” and further explored my local culture with my local PBS station’s program “Colores.” The PBS Passport has been great, because it allowed me to continue my virtual travel (local and abroad) during the pandemic. The Pandemic. THE PANDEMIC (this is a written echo – the pandemic is always ready to sneak in and reflect back into everything I do).

The pandemic… I got my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday. In three weeks, I hope to get my second dose. In my mind (oh no, we’re not going there again), this will be my pharmaceutical passport to leave my house for more than an hour or two at a time. Where will I go? How will I go? What will I do? Who will care for Cinnamon (who has with no intent at all, preserved my mental and emotional health over the past 12 months)? Thank you Pfizer, for re-introducing where, what, who and how into my life. Thank you PBS Passport for allowing me to see so much of the world’s beauty without leaving my sofa. United States Postal Service, hang in there. I may want to renew my passport one day. Life is good!

Friday Eve

While working, I loved Thursdays. Thursday was Friday Eve. On Thursday, you could rejoice in the fact that tomorrow would be the working man’s beloved Friday. I am writing this on Thursday. Retirement Thursday does not have the potential happy punch that working Thursday did, but here I am on Thursday, still happy. I’m happy that I’m retired and no longer working.

I’m happy that I’m not working EVERY day during retirement. Happy is heavily dependent upon perspective. Every morning I have to get up and check my shoes to make sure that they don’t have unhappy slime on the soles. That slime will cause my happy feet to slip right out from under me and I can (and have) slide into a pool of unhappiness and self-pity. I have quoted my favorite business slogan (Bissell’s) before: “life’s messy; clean it up.” When it comes to unhappy shoe slime, I have to clean it up myself. Only I can clean it up. There is no Mr. Clean who can magically appear and clean it up for me. Mister, that’s not very nice to me.

I’ve been developing an unhappy shoe-slime cleaning solution. The ol’ Coronavirus has complicated my formulating. My granddaughter, Liadan, frequently reminds me of the impact of Coronavirus. She is very theatrical, so she often, with much drama, tells me that she would have… (it’s always something phenomenal) but she was foiled by CORONAVIRUS. Things I can’t do because of Coronavirus are unhappy slime on the soles of my shoes. I would be going to the gym (or more likely the YMCA) and be incredibly svelte, but for Coronavirus. Slime removing solution: walk (while masked) with friends. I would be learning Spanish (or pickleball, or bridge, or improved writing skills) at my nearby senior center, but for Coronavirus. Slime removing solution: Masterclasses and The Great Courses. I would be reconnecting with friends from my past, but for Coronavirus. Slime removing solution: writing a blog and sending invites to the blog to friends (after 100 posts I’m up to 25 followers – thank you my friends). I’m retired; my time is my own. Today I cleaned my pantry shelves. Yeah, life is good (and my pantry is clean).

So it’s Friday Eve and I love it. I learned to love Thursdays while working. In retirement, I’m LEARNING to love EVERY day. To tell the truth, I’m only moderately happy, but another thing I learned while working is to fake it until you make it. If you’ll excuse me, I have some unhappy slime to remove from the soles of my shoes so that I will be ready to be happy on Friday.

Shoe-slime-removal chair

The Long and Winding Yarn

I have a lot of yarn. I have too much yarn. Why? I have yarn for use with my knitting machines. I never use my knitting machines. I have yarn for crocheting and hand knitting. I don’t hand knit, so that leaves a lot of yarn awaiting pulling and twisting with a crochet hook. When I think about it, it is pretty amazing that a long linear strand of fiber is pulled though itself one loop at a time, over and over again, to create something else. Crocheting is my attempt at being amazing. Last week I finished crocheting an afghan, started and finished crocheting a deer and started another afghan. None of these projects has visibly decreased my yarn “stash.”

When I began my retirement journey, I established rules for myself (I was missing those rules imposed upon me by the workplace), intending to ensure that my much-decreased income would meet my not-so-decreased expenses. One of those retirement-spending rules was to NOT buy yarn before going through my existing yarn supply when beginning a new project. I’m amazed that I should have so much yarn, and still, on most occassions, not have what I need for my newly-begun projects. Of the three projects that I worked on last week, only one did not require the purchase of more yarn. Yarn is very seductive stuff. It can really pull you in.

It’s amazing what people can do with yarn. I am a member of a machine knitting guild. The other members create beautiful articles of clothing, art and warmth. I own knitting machines. They are capable of creating, they just don’t under my ownership. They’re heavy and would no doubt help to hold my house down in a storm. They are also great whisperers of yarn-buying urgings. As I’ve said before, during a pandemic, household items become increasingly conversive (and persuasive).

I choose projects requiring a crochet hook, because crochet hooks require much less commitment than do knitting machines. Knitting machines require a commitment to space and set-up effort before you even start a project. With a crochet hook, you just pick it up and carry it to wherever you want to use it. When you’re to a stopping point you set it down.

Cinnamon sometimes curls up next to me and “helps” me with my crochet projects. She’s a very helpful cat. She has put in an order for a crocheted cat. We’re both still on the fence about getting her a real cat.

And so, my yarn about yarn is coming to a tangled end. I will untangle it, and add it to my stash to be used later. Retirement is full of “later” and yarn. Life is good.

Less-than-perfect home-made deer.

My Favorites

When Phil and I began dating, he took me to the home of one of his friends. This friend had small children, and one of the little ones told me that I was her favorite. I assumed that I, of the many young women that Phil took to this friend’s home, was her favorite. I was flattered. The following Valentine’s Day, I had a sign made for Phil, with the words, “You’re my favorite” inscribed on it. Last Valentine’s Day, the first following Phil’s passing, I was comforted by the outpouring of love from my friends. I want everyone to know, that friends are so much more valuable than money… and chocolates and flowers. Although friends bringing chocolates, flowers and cards are truly amazing, the best gift is the friendship itself. Yep, the gift of friendship is definitely my favorite.

I started evaluating “my favorites” when I read the headline in this morning’s paper, “Polar vortex to bring big chill to NM.” I immediately thought, as far as vortexes/vortices go, Polar ones are not my favorite. I prefer a visit to the many vortices of Sedona (one might say a whirlwind visit, if one was as proficient at all things corny as myself) to standing outside during the chill winds of a Polar vortex.

My favorite pet is always my current pet, because, and this is an amazing phenomenon, my current pet is always my best pet ever. Cinnamon knows that she is my “best kitty.” Yes, she is my FAVORITE kitty and I tell her so repeatedly every day.

My favorites have changed over the years. My favorite kitty, three kitties ago, is not my favorite kitty now (although I have fond memories of all of my kitties). My favorite food has not changed, but has spiraled out (kind of like a favorite-food vortex) to include many foods. Isn’t that GREAT. Instead of just craving one yummy, not-so-good-for-me food, I now crave almost anything that is slightly sweet and edible. Life is good!

Retirement is currently my favorite stage of life. It provides the time required to leisurely explore potentially-favorite activities and foods. When a Polar vortex descends upon New Mexico, I can stay inside, snug and warm. I don’t have to brave (although to be honest, there was no bravery involved when I travelled icy roads to get to work – just cowardly white knuckles) the elements to fulfill work commitments.

Today, I’m going to stay inside with my FAVORITE cat, drinking my favorite herbal tea while watching my favorite “All Creatures Great and Small” episode. She and I will happily reside in the warm eye of the Polar vortex that swirls around my house. I may call or email some of my wonderful friends. I may not. I may simply reminisce; remembering some of my favorite times with some of my favorite people. Apparently, even a Polar vortex brings gifts – opportunities to appreciate the warmth of home and value of friends (including furry ones). So, it’s good to have a warm home, a fluffy cat, good memories and be retired during a Polar vortex. I should donate to those who don’t have a warm home. It’s cold outside, and I am inside: blessed and warm.

Cinnamon, contemplating the approaching Polar vortex.