Friday, February 11, 2022

Plants are my joy

CHMusings: Christmas cactus
Today is Feb. 11th. Tell it to my Christmas Cactus that only recently has decided to bloom. Actually, this used to be a Thanksgiving Cactus, blooming on time for years in late November. A couple of times it has bloomed at Christmas time, but I guess now it is a Valentine’s Day Cactus. Oh well, fine with me. 

CHMusings: Poinsettia

Speaking of Christmas, there is this Poinsettia—last year’s plant--that made it through the summer, fall, winter, spring, and now another winter. This is the only “red” it has produced, but I’m grateful for its effort. Not only that, but she is still alive, which is a feat all its own.

CHMusings: Shamrock1
Finally, these are the plants that have made me happy throughout the dreary winter, and too-numerous Covid months. I just love their whimsical growing habit and those adorable little flowers.



Sunday, February 6, 2022

Conquering even little things makes me feel like a rock star

CHMusings: Drain pic

Since my husband suffered a stroke several years ago, he has had to face many challenges in trying to cope with simply living every day. But as his caregiver and wife of 45 years, I’ve had to face a few challenges myself. I like to say that I am now in essence, the man of the house.

It is a good thing my liberal beliefs have blurred gender lines and haven’t saddled me with the, “I cannot do this because it is man’s work” mantra. I have to say, I have tried to tell myself that when I’m faced with such things as the car won’t start, the garbage cans are so heavy,  the water softener needs more salt, or a gazillion other things that John used to take care of. Still, some of these challenges seem to smack me right between the eyes.

Truth is I never had a desire to do those kinds of things. I never even thought about it. Well, desire or not, it has to be done and my number is up. Managing a household and property does not leave much time for me to wimp out. Truthfully, I’d prefer to succumb to my upbringing where I believed in girls playing with Barbie dolls, believing that there really is a Prince Charming, and all the other silly notions from my day that have little consequence in today’s world. Personally, I’d like to just quilt all day, read great books and maybe write one, or tend to my house plants—what I like to call—girl stuff.

I admit that most boy chores and maintenance functions aggravate the hell out of me. But, when I accomplish something I never did before or master a new skill, I feel like a rock star. I should just go with that instead of feeling put upon when something needs to be done.

My latest issue, and the inspiration for this rant reveal, occurred at about midnight last night when after a hot, comforting bath to soothe a very long day, I went to brush my teeth before bed. I was contemplating that all-important moment when I can place my head on the pillow and maneuver my body into the ultimate comfort place so as to ensure a restful sleep. This has always been my favorite time of day.

I prepared to quickly drain the sink; it still had a little water left in it as I allow Ryan, my spoiled brat, best friend, aged kitty to drink water there. For some reason she likes that better than her perpetual, as-long-as-I-fill it, water fountain in the kitchen. And I prefer the sink option over seeing her drink out of the toilet bowl.

But, as I pushed the plunger to raise the drain plug, nothing happened. It was stuck. I tried pulling it out and realized it wasn’t going anywhere. I went to the kitchen to get a sharp knife, which used to have a sharp tip but no longer does, and my favorite tool, a Craftsman Robo Grip.   I gave it my best shot, but finally realized this would take more effort than I was willing to expend at this late hour. So, I gave up and decided to tackle it in the morning.

Success! Thanks to technology, I was able to take care of this. First, I checked You Tube videos because that is always my first step. Google has heard it all before apparently, and always leads me to where I need to go. 

A quick search revealed once again that there is always someone keen on instruction videos for myriad tasks. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a problem where there isn’t a video solution to follow.

So once I gained an understanding of how this all worked, and how to go about freeing the stuck plug, I was able to point my cell phone to the offending rod and arm under the sink to see how to disassemble it.

I soon realized how simple it was to disconnect the thing, which allowed me to finally unplug the drain.
My only dilemma now, is to figure out if I want to bother putting it back together or if I want to just get a little rubber one to manually fill the sink. I think I’m going to opt for the latter. Who needs this in their life?


Thursday, February 3, 2022

Then and now, not so different

CHMusings: Heart of snow
I was born and spent my early childhood in Chicago. I now live in Arkansas, in a little house in the woods.

While these two places may seem like polar opposites, there are similarities. And one place definitely reminds me of the other.

When I lived in Chicago, on the south side of the city, it was a very long time ago. My family lived in a neighborhood that was not unlike a small town. Yes, neighbors’ houses were a little closer together, but that was OK back then. We had close friendships with our neighbors.

There were vacant lots sprinkled throughout the vicinity where we kids used to play. I remember birds butterflies, and wildflowers, the likes of which I hadn’t seen until moving to Arkansas. I remember the first time I saw a bluebird here. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen a bluebird since those days so long ago. The colorful birds and the sounds emanating from the trees filled with them brought me back to another time. But that was a summertime memory.

Contrarily, I awoke this morning to the sight of huge snowflakes alternating between drifting randomly and falling steadily from the sky. The snow began slowly, but soon began to add up to a blanket across the landscape. It is a scene that always makes me smile. It reminds me so much of my life at five- or-six years old when I woke up to a snowy scene. It always meant a day full of fun.

We don’t get much snow in Arkansas, so when we do, it is an event. The view out my window was one of complete serenity, so different than what was expected. This was to be a horror—with predictions of ice so thick it would compromise electric lines and snap tree limbs. We have been through that here already. An ice storm of 2009 was one to remember, when our electric power in our all-electric house was out for five days. Everyone who lives in these parts remembers, fears, and dreads a repeat event. This thankfully was not that.

I certainly remember what it was like to go outside to play. Snow meant sledding, snowballs, building snowmen, and shoveling. But as an aging adult, I had to settle for a quick trek to fill the bird feeders. While my time outside in the snow paled in comparison to the time I spent outdoors back then, I remember what 19 degrees felt like. I recalled being so cold I could hardly feel my hands and feet. Socks and mittens were drenched. Back then we put them on the oil stove to dry. I’ll never forget the feeling of my feet; when they warmed up they were as itchy as an infestation of chigger bites—well almost.

CHMusings: snowy tree
In the city, our family lived next to the railroad tracks where a huge hill made the best sledding spot. And, it was right in our own backyard. Winter was so much fun.

While I’m not so enamored with the coldest season these days, admittedly I do enjoy when it snows. That old oil stove is just a memory. Today, the house is partially warmed by a fire blazing in a wood stove. It smells much better.

While life as an adult is very different from those innocent, carefree, happy times as a child; and Arkansas’ life is far from the hustle and bustle of the city, there really are similarities. I suppose my life and penchant for nature illustrate the connection between these two opposing times and places.

Like enjoying bluebirds, I also delight in the beauty of snow.


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.