Friday, October 8, 2021

At 14, Ryan is showing her age


I thought I would revisit the story below as it tells how I came to love my Ryan. I wrote it a little more than a year after moving to Arkansas. It was such a happy day, and one I will always remember.

This story was first published in a paper where I worked in November 2007, a few months after the birth of Ryan and her sisters. NOTE: After reading it again, it was all I could do not to edit it, but I refrained because that isn’t my point.

This happy day has been on my mind lately because Ryan is nearing the end of her life. Admittedly, I’m having a hard time dealing with the news that her life is limited.

Ryan is the best cat I’ve ever known and is my most reliable companion. The two of us have been inseparable. She is my soul mate. She sleeps with me and we hold hands. Ryan helps me quilt. She sits on my lap when I read, sew, or watch TV. I’ve posted many pictures of Ryan on Facebook and in my blogs many times, so she may already be familiar to you.

There is no distinctive diagnosis, but the vet suspects Lymphoma. I received this news more than a month ago, as Ryan has started showing signs of decline. She has lost almost half of her weight and clearly doesn’t feel like being as cuddly as she once was. The last few days, she has gained a little weight, though not nearly as much as her normal 7 lbs. I will continue to monitor her condition and do whatever is in my power to make her happy and comfortable and to share our lives together as long as we can.

I will not let her suffer. I will know when it is time, but that time isn’t here quite yet. Except for her rather extreme weight loss, she still seems to find joy in living, evidenced by her interest in teasing her mom, playing with her sisters, and poking her nose into an open window to smell the breezes wafting into the house.  She does all the things a healthy cat does; eat drink, and the elimination of both, though not always in the litter box.

The last month has been a roller coaster ride, and there seems to be more of the monotonous slow climb than the exciting twists and turns and fast free-fall, but I feel I owe Ryan the best I have since that is what she has always given to me.

The following is the story I wrote when the girls were born. It was such a happy day.

 Crazy about cats or just plain crazy?

When I was a youngster living in Chicago, there was a lady down the street who we kids in the neighborhood mockingly called Crazy Annie.

I sometimes think about her, wishing I could remember more about her. It makes me laugh because I think I have become her.

My memories of Annie are vague, because my family moved out of that neighborhood when I was 6 yrs. old.

I remember that Annie used to reward my brother and me for picking seeds for her from her Four O’clock plants. All I remember is that she gave us pennies for them. I don’t recall any other details, about how many we had to pick, or even what kind of container we used. It must have been a jar, because there was no such thing as plastic bags back then.

I recall that the inside of Annie’s house was dark – blinds were always drawn. There was a kind of red glow in her living room from the sunshine behind the curtains. I remember being a little scared. Thinking back, she was the quintessential old spinster who had lots of cats running around.

For most of my adult life, I’ve had a cat and sometimes two. But after a stray we named Timi wandered onto our property last fall, my husband John and I now have six.

Timi, who was obviously young, was a calico with muted colors. She seemingly appeared out of nowhere once night. Apparently she chose us. It was almost like she was stalking us. She knew which room we occupied because she peered into the window at us, pacing back and forth on the brick ledge just outside the glass, always meowing. When we were outside, she followed us and was always affectionate. She showed up in the morning at whatever door we opened to let out our dog Sam. It was almost as if she knew. And Timi was very vocal about her desire to become friends.

We put food out for her, because it wasn’t long before she won our hearts. She was never far away from the house. Finally, it started getting colder outside, so we let her into the house. She even made friends with our resident cat, Emily, a 10-year old long-haired gray cat with an attitude.

In the spring, we noticed a change in Timi. She became restless, and wanted to go outside. While we debated about what to do, Timi made the decision for us. We woke one morning to find the screen broken out of a back porch window. Timi was gone.

But she soon reappeared. Only this time, she wasn’t exactly alone. It soon became apparent that Timi was pregnant. She was always very affectionate, especially toward John. But he wasn’t as quick to embrace the idea of little kittens as I was. I couldn’t wait. Timi must have sensed that too, so during her pregnancy, it was my lap she wanted to claim. I was more than happy to oblige. I can’t resist baby animals, but I am most fond of kittens.

I read all I could on the Internet about the feline birthing process. Timi was a very young cat and I hoped her instincts would guide her. But if not, I was ready to help. I sensed when she was very close to giving birth. I was afraid she might want to have her kittens in private, which is customary for cats. But, she actually came to get me when the time had come. I was at my computer when she jumped onto the window screen. She climbed frantically.

It was July 11 and I played midwife to Timi’s five kittens that were born in a newspaper lined box next to the swing on the front porch. John wanted no part of this process, but was just inside the house. He was like a nervous grandpa.

I was in awe as Timi knew exactly what to do. I gingerly moved the first kitten to another box, while Timi gave birth to the next one. This went on until there were five in the litter. I put them back into the box with their other. I decided then and there that I couldn’t part with any of them.

Since John and I had difficulty agreeing on the names for our own two children, I figured it would be really difficult to come up with five more names. So, we decided to name them after NASCAR drivers.

The first born was Ryan, named for Ryan Newman, our favorite drivers. The others were Kenny (Kenny Wallace); Junior (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.); Kasey (Kasey Kahn); and Rusty (Rusty Wallace).

The birth went well taking about three hours. Timi did great. She was very attentive and caring – showing signs of being an excellent mother.

We were not without issues however, as Junior was born with a deformed right front paw. I decided we had to love her the most. And, she is smaller than the others. Rusty was the runt of the litter, and lived only 11 days. She was probably the prettiest kitten, as she was marked much like her mother with lots of colors. The others are all variations of gray and white.

They are just over three months old now. They are healthy and active – oh are they active! They have all, along with their mother, been spayed.

We guessed that Ryan was the only male in the bunch, but were surprised to learn that she too was a female. All of our NASCAR-named kittens are girls! Too late now, they know their names.

It has been an absolute joy to experience the development of these little critters. Kittens seem to develop on an accelerated schedule, with visible changes almost daily.

Each has a personality all her own. Ryan has stayed true to her early beginnings, as the sweet, cuddly one. Kasey is the scaredy-cat, who jumps at unfamiliar sound, though jumps first and with all four feet. She seems to be taking on the characteristic of alpha cat, or top dog, which to me, is just another word for trouble maker. Junior is the tough one, a fierce competitor with her siblings. She’s not afraid of anything, even though she has a disability. Early on, she worked hard at keeping up with the others, doing what they did, even if it wasn’t always graceful. Kenny is the mellow one, who goes along with whatever the others do, but never does it first.

There is no better illustration of family bonding and dependency than to watch these siblings interact with their mother and each other. Timi, who started this as a youngster herself, has grown into a mature and protective mother, using her instincts to teach her all she needed to know. Now that her kittens are bigger, she has begun to play with them. She no longer acts solely as their defender. Yet, she remains protective.

Emily isn’t fond of any of them. She remembers when she was the only object of our affection. She must share that now and isn’t happy about it. Lots of hissing and growling goes on. That challenge remains, but these kittens will likely win her over. She is already curious about them.

For now, the kittens will remain inside cats. Though Timi has ventured back outside, she comes in at night. After all, we rescued her from the wild. She is friends with raccoons, runs with the deer, and is a good mouse and snake hunter. We no longer leave food outside because there have been black bear cubs in the area and we’d rather not attract them. Our only hope is that Timi stays close to home and doesn’t get into trouble.

We are comforted to know that she won’t have more kittens, despite the affection we have for these. It just isn’t responsible to allow her to be outside without having first been spayed.

Because Timi was a stray, our local humane society helped with the cost of spaying. We will support them in the future any way we can. Had we not given Timi a home, she might be having a second litter. And since her four kittens are females, they would likely have had kittens of their own as well, had we not intervened. And on and on it goes. It is hard to imagine that so many unwanted cats are born each year. It is even harder to imagine how many of them have to be killed because there is no one to take them all in.

As I look around the house, a cat in nearly every view, I think back to my younger days, and of Annie, the neighbor with lots of cats.

This was a woman who was kind to young children. She paid us pennies to collect seeds from her perennials that would probably have re-seeded themselves anyway. Her action taught us that work paid rewards and that we should be diligent in our endeavors. I remember carefully picking only the ripe, plump, black seeds and leaving the rest for another time.

Annie befriended us. She brought us into her home. Those were days of innocence when neighbors were not to be feared. And she let us pet her cats. In doing so, she showed us she trusted us. They were obviously very important to her. That first feeling of silky fur between my fingers must have made an impression.

I’ve thought of Annie from time to time, wondering whatever became of her. I never even knew her last name. Sadly, there was much I didn’t know about her. I think if I knew her now, I would like her. There is one thing I know for sure. Annie wasn’t crazy.


Sunday, July 4, 2021

Love, love, love, this completed quilt

This morning I woke up feeling proud, accomplished, and satisfied. Last night at 9 p.m., I knotted my thread, cut it, and let out a sign. I finished hand sewing the binding to the back. After 18 months, I finished my quilt.

This one was my favorite—no really. I know I say that each time I work on a quilt, but this one is special. This one challenged me. This one honed skills I didn’t have when I began more than 18 months ago. This one has certainly beefed up my quilting resume.

My only disappointment, and that may be too strong a word since I’m elated with this quilt, is that it wasn’t my own design. I’m not sure why I’m stuck on that element, because I only choose to make quilts from patterns I love and want to complete, but creating my own design is the one thing I want to master. I want to sit down with graph paper and colored pencils, or at the computer keyboard and let my imagination run wild.

I’m not sure this will ever happen. After all, every quilt I make since my first quilt was complete in 2003, is uniquely my own, always one of a kind; it is similar to others, but always different. Despite all the people who have sewn this quilt commonly known as Afternoon Delight, no one has this one. The pattern, designed by the late Sue Garman, will have been made by hundreds, and perhaps even tens of thousands of people. Mine is but one of those, but still, this one is all mine. Though it was Garman’s pattern, I collected all the fabrics. I picked the the colors. I decided on the quilting designs. And, of course, I did all the cutting, piecing, hand applique, and quilting.

I have no way of knowing if I will ever achieve this element of my quilting journey—designing my own quilt. I’ve modified existing designs, which could qualify as making them my own, but in my mind, it isn’t quite the same. I hope I can someday achieve designing, but who knows. If I never do, that is OK too because I love quilting. I love every quilt I’ve ever made.

And the list is long for those I still want to make—traditional patterns—like Grandmother’s Flower Garden, Double Wedding Ring, and so many more. I plan to stay busy as long as my fingers still function and my eyes still see, despite a growing difficulty.

I’d have to go pretty far though to love a quilt as much as this one. I loved making this one. I’m enamored with this quilt. It turned out so much better than I imagined.

Finishing a quilt is always joyful, but this one has taken my breath away. I’ve loved every stitch.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Memories sparked by photographs

CHMusings:Andy Williams
I can barely remember a time when I wasn't enamored with the late Andy Williams. His music has soothed my soul for almost 50 years. 

I was recently reminded of just how long ago that was while cleaning out some cupboards in the garage. I found some old photo albums. I thumbed through them and was reminded about the time I saw Andy live in concert. Of course I had forgotten about these.

The pictures are poor, taken with a small film-fed camera from a seat fairly far from the stage. But even though details of his features are fuzzy, that stance is so familiar and recognizable. And, I will always believe that in this shot, he was singing just to me.

CHMusings:Andy Williams concert ticket
I still have the ticket stub from that concert. Andy performed with Michel Legrand on the piano. They were two superstars as far as I was concerned.

The concert was on a Friday night, Nov. 26, 1976 at Airie Crown Theater in Chicago's McCormick Place. It was a very cold, frigid night in the city with temperatures below zero with a cold, blustery wind whipping off the lake. It assaulted us as we crossed the parking lot to our car. Despite memories of the cold, that night burns in my memory.

This turned out to be a memorable night in my life. I was on a date with the man I would marry a few months later, the same man with whom I/ve shared my life ever since. 

I always say I married John because he took me to see Andy--that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I was even able to convey that to Andy when I had the opportunity to meet him in person at his book signing of "Moon River and Me," a few years ago. Meeting Andy was to fulfill the dream of a lifetime.

I was so anxious to read his book, so I started it on the drive home. I wrote about that too as I savored the reading of Andy's memoir

Though Andy has been gone for several years, I will never forget him and what he's meant to me. Despite the indelible mark he's made on me, I know the beautiful music he created will endure even longer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

This just makes my day!

This morning, I glanced out the window and saw a doe with her newborn fawn. I stopped to watch for a while before grabbing my camera for some not-so-great pictures.

I suspect this fawn isn't very old, just by the way it walked, unsure of its steps and with a tentative posture. It made its way to Mom and began to suckle. Mom licked its little face. Could there be anything cuter than a nursing fawn?


Mama was aware of my presence, even though I was inside looking through the window. She definitely was keeping a watchful eye.

While I watched, another doe appeared in the woods. Mama was very clearly not happy about that. The second deer approached just a little too close to the baby, causing Mama to react. She chased the intruder into the woods, and then returned to the baby. The doe approached again. This time Mama was serious. She led her baby to a grassy area at the base of a tree. The baby laid down in the tall grass and was barely visible from my vantage point. Mama went after the doe again, this time on the attack, kicking with her front legs. She meant business and the doe knew it. She ran into the woods and didn't look back. 

 It is this kind of a just-another-day-in-the-woods encounter that makes my day. 



Sunday, May 2, 2021

Today is all about flaws, both physical and mechanical

I’ve been nursing a bad knee for about a month. I’m not sure what I did, but it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. It is very painful to walk, even with a knee brace, so it appears a doctor visit may be in my future. That is not something I look forward to because I’m a real wimp about such things. However, I may not have a choice if I ever want to walk normally again.

mini frameI recently noted in CH Musings, that I am trying out a new quilt hoop on a stand that I recently purchased. 

I have some good news and some bad news on that front. In the meantime though, I’ve been spending time icing, elevating, and resting my left knee which requires lots of sitting. No worries; that has allowed me time to enjoy my quilting. I’ve always known that quilting provided mental therapy, but now it is also my physical therapy. I am so enjoying working on this quilt. I am making great progress too.

The good news is that I’ve really been enjoying hand-quilting on what I call my mini frame.

The frame itself has three knobs, visible in the photo, which holds the hoop assembly onto the stand. These are adjustable and allow the hoop that holds the quilt to rotate up to 360º. Combined with the other tilt mechanisms on the stand, the adjustability makes for a very comfortable quilting experience.

But the bad news is that apparently, and I’m not sure how or why, but the center knob no longer holds the hoop assembly in place. It is stripped and can no longer be tightened. The hoop is now unstable on the frame and can even fall off if I don’t hold it. That isn’t comfortable.

I’ve written to the company, which seems anxious to help. I hope they can send me a new piece so I can continue using this product. I tried in the interim to quilt on my lap using just a frame as I used to. But now that just feels awkward. I suppose I could get used to it again, but I want to try to make this work.

It is time to hobble into the kitchen for ice for my knee, and settle into an afternoon of quilting.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Hand-quilting; I just can't stop

I first decided to hand quilt my latest quilt – “Afternoon Delight,” a 2020 Block of the Month project designed by the late Sue Garman for The Quilt Show. I finished the quilt top in February, more than a year after I started it. I was pretty iffy on my choice of hand quilting or machine quilting because I really love free-motion quilting on my domestic sewing machine. And, machine quilting is so much quicker. I realized I could have a finished quilt in a much shorter time if I do it by machine. I have never even considered sending a quilt out to be quilted by someone else even though the result of professional quilting is spectacular. So for me, the question was simply one way or the other.

As I’ve stated in a prior post Quilting challenges, my last hand-quilting endeavor was a bit of a disaster. While I loved hand-quilting in the past, a few years ago, I am older now. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be and I have tendonitis in my arms, some carpal tunnel in my hands, and I’ve never really found a way to be completely comfortable. I never learned how to quilt on a frame. I’ve only quilted on my lap with a hoop.

When I’ve hand-quilted in the past, I used a 16” round hoop once used by my husband’s grandmother. You might say I inherited it. Granny made lots of beautiful quilts, one of which I wrote about: Remembering Granny and her quilts

The last time I hand-quilted I tried using no hoop at all, which was definitely easier, but that method had other problems for me. I spray-basted the layers together and they easily shifted without the tension a hoop provides.

My brain went back and forth on my whether to hand quilt or machine quilt this lovely piece of work, one of the most complex quilts I’ve ever made. But, as so many quilters will attest, this quilt spoke to me. It wanted to be hand-quilted, largely because so much of it was done by hand. Once I made the decision, I reasoned that this was my best and really, only option.

I decided to try my hand, no pun intended, on a small quilt hoop on a stand. I had no idea if I would like this thing, but it did have many advantages, such as its complete customization. The quilt can be turned 360º and the frame can be moved from its upright position to a different height and rake to make using it more comfortable. The biggest advantage for me though, is that it would provide a place to keep my quilt while in progress. I could easily scoot the entire thing out of the way when I’m not using it, and scoot it back to my chair when I want to quilt.

I guess I’m happy with what I call ‘my baby quilt frame, because all I want to do now is quilt. Thankfully the weather has been cool and rainy, so quilting for hours at a time, while I listen to audio books is just about a perfect way to spend a few happy hours. I am using wool batting for the first time. Although I would never consider myself a great quilter, that is the beauty of this – I don’t have to be great to create something beautiful.

I am very pleased at the simple design I have come up with and how it looks on the finished blocks. I am about halfway done at this point. When I wake up, I just can’t wait to get a few things done around the house so I can sit back down and quilt. I quilt in front of the television; I quilt while I listen to the readings of my audible books. I quilt to music.

Could there any better therapy for the pandemic year from hell? I don’t think so.

Here is a sneak peek at how things are going. 

I guess Kasey thinks this one will be hers. I always have the greatest quilt critics, although they never seem to have found a quilt they didn’t like. This one will be no different.