Category Archives: Nonfiction

Let’s Hope This is the Last Pet Post for Some Time

This is a weird post to write after I’ve been telling you about the pets that have been part of my life.

By the way, I’m going to interrupt myself. In my twenties and into my thirties, we had two dogs. The first one my mother-in-law found downtown Kalamazoo. That first night, the pup had to sleep in her car in the garage because of the old dog my in-laws owned. It was early December, but my MIL made the car quite comfortable and warm enough for the pup out there. By day two, my MIL had given her to us. The gardener named her Muffin. Actually that was sort of a compromise. He wanted to name her Muffy or Scruffy or something undistinguished like that. I wanted a more complex and respectable name, but had to settle on the over-used name Muffin.

A couple of years later, I was waiting on a customer in our luggage store downtown when I saw another scruffy mutt run down the sidewalk. I grabbed a dog biscuit that I happened to keep in the drawer under the cash register and followed the dog down the street. When he hid under a car in a parking lot, I had to crawl under there in my newish khaki skirt (grrrr). I pulled him out and took him back to the store. The rest is history. I named him Oliver because he gulped down the only thing we had in the fridge, which I think was milk (not good for a dog’s tummy, I know).  “Please, sir, I want some MORE!” (Oliver Twist from the musical Oliver)

These dogs were groomed together, so they began to look a little bit alike.  They were both very well-loved. I found over 25 stray dogs over that period of my life, but located other homes for the rest of them.

When our kids were babies, these dogs were the most efficient vacuum cleaners, especially under the high chair and the kitchen table.

OK, I’m going back to what I wanted to tell you to begin with. I quit my volunteer job at the animal shelter! I’ve been there five or six years and love what I do there. There was a political situation, and I left to show solidarity with the most amazing HUMAN HERO FOR CATS. So that is that. It’s too Covidy out and about for me now, so I will have to wait to find a new shelter. That doesn’t mean I can’t help out as I see little ways to do so. It’s pretty devastating for me personally, but even more so for the cats at the shelter. I worry about them although they will certainly be better off than on the street or in abusive situations. I’m sad.

 

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Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction

Animals, a List

This past week the lit mag North of Oxford posted a list of the 10 most read poems from their magazine from January-July 2020. It was exciting to see my poem “Medusa’s #Metoo” make the list!

10 Most Read Poems

After writing about my kitty Toby in No Goodbye: A Cat Story I decided to write about my other childhood pets, as well as other animals I encountered in life. Sort of clearing my head about my upbringing with animals. So this isn’t a story, per se, like the one about Toby. It’s more of a list of animals.

The first memory that comes to mind that involves animals I actually already wrote about on this blog almost eight years ago. You can find it here: A Ride with Memory. It’s about my earliest scary memory, and I wasn’t even three-years-old yet. This story involves a horse.

When I was in kindergarten my grandmother babysat me every day before school and all afternoon until almost dinner time. My aunt and her springer spaniel Sandy lived with my grandparents. I was repeatedly warned not to touch Sandy. I needed to stay away from Sandy because Sandy was a biter. Actually, the only person Sandy had ever bitten was me, when I was a baby. She bit my eyelid off, and at the hospital, a doctor sewed it back on. I didn’t remember that trauma, and I still insisted on making a meat pie to celebrate Sandy’s birthday.

When I was five or six, the neighbor’s Dalmatian bit me in the leg, but it wasn’t too serious.

Before we got Toby the cat, we had a bowl with goldfish a couple of times, but they always died. I think I overfed them, and it polluted the water. I had small turtles, but they invariably walked away out of our yard and never came back. Once my father brought home baby ducks at Easter time. Not chicks, ducks. I don’t know what happened to them, but I was terrified of how fragile they were and that I could hurt them. We had chicks one year, too.

I am starting to see the thread here. My father bringing pets home for the family. I’m sure it irritated my mother. Then he brought home a big cage with two guinea pigs.  My mother made us keep them in the basement. I’ve written a little story about this for my never-finished memoir, but to sum up: the guinea pigs were unfixed male and female. My dad helped me through the crisis that ensued.

A few months later, he brought home a puppy. A man he worked with had found the puppy at a lake where someone had tried to drown the entire litter. I suspect Perky was the only one left alive, and my father brought her home to us. My mother named her Perky after the man who found her: Mr. Perkins.

Here’s a scrapbook page my mom made for me of some childhood pets. The photo in the upper right is an example of how I always loved feeding the animals. But I still remember being bitten by a llama at Deer Forest Park.  Perky is the dog with the collie-type coloring.

Yup, that’s me and the gardener in the center, bathing Perky. She was already getting old there. In the lower left she was playing on the beach at our lake cottage with a “local” puppy. My brother is almost eight years younger than me. At some point, Perky really became his dog because Perky could hang around him while he was playing outside. The gardener and I were out of town when Perky had to be “put to sleep,” and my father and brother went together to the vet and stayed with Perky. That was as it should be.

In 7th grade, the girls and I cut through a vacant lot and someone’s backyard to get home from school. We didn’t notice the white German Shepherd in the dog house. He lunged at us, incensed at our audacity. We ran like crazy, but he was on a chain (poor thing, no wonder he was crabby) and so we were safe. Or so I thought. I slowed down just a moment too soon. He could still reach me, s0 he took a chunk out of my ankle. After that, I was scared of German Shepherds until I became an adult.

When I was fifteen I bought myself a cage with two finches: a brilliant scarlet one and a beautiful green. Of course, the green one managed to get herself egg-bound and although I held her over the steam like the book said to do, she still couldn’t pass the egg and eventually died from the exertion. I kept finches for years, but they were all gone before my kids entered my life. Good thing, or my babies would have been eating birdseed off the floor. Finches are lovely to look at, but very messy because when they eat they hurl the hulls of the seeds across the room.

As an adult I’ve had dogs, cats, the finches, hermit crabs, and a rat. (She was the best pet). I’d like to have donkeys, but it’s looking doubtful that that is going to happen.

Lots of sad times with the animals. And some painful ones when I was bit (three dogs and one llama). But none of it deterred me from being an animal lover–from fish to horses, I love all the species I encountered.

###

In this pandemic I am so grateful to have my six cats. But last night Felix had to go to the ER. He had diarrhea, wouldn’t eat, and hadn’t peed in 38 hours. The vet said his bladder was small, so that was a mystery, but I was glad he wasn’t blocked. I hope he gets better fast and that it’s not something bad. Poor baby.

Here’s Kana to say HI and BYE!

Perry hasn’t said HI in awhile, so he wanted to hop in here, too. Cutie pie.

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Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

The Year I’d Like to Return: Refund, Please

I hope you and yours are all well, and that you are handling all this chaos and sometimes isolation.

We had some sad news this weekend. My cousin’s son passed away after all those weeks in a coma/on a ventilator/ on dialysis. He left behind a 6-year-old son, wife, mother and father, sister, and grandfather. I feel very sad for him, as well as for his son and wife. And my cousin and her husband have had a lot of tragedy in their lives before this, so it’s just too too much.

I have to stretch to find something positive right now to share as I want to retreat to my couch with an ice cream bar. I saw a cute hummingbird and took a couple of lousy pix and a short movie. And today is my birthday, by the way. A big one. Woohoo. Heh.

I can’t figure out what kind of hummingbird this one is. We live in Maricopa County, so I looked up hummers in this area, and he/she doesn’t really look like any of the ones pictured. The closest would be a male black-chinned hummingbird.

My mom got me this book of cute poems by kittens. It was written by the same author of I Can Pee on This.

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Filed under #writerslife, Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Nonfiction, Writing

No Goodbye: A Cat Story

Five years ago, when the gardener and I adopted Kana, our black cat, I wrote a little bit about my first cat who also happened to be black. I thought I’d tell you the whole story this time. Here is TOBY’S STORY (and I’m sorry, but it’s not a pretty one):

The cat that lived with the Cuban brothers across the street had kittens the year I was seven. My parents had never shown an interest in animals, but because I was an only child and begged so desperately, they gave in and let me choose an all-black kitten.  My mother named him Toby. The only other interest I remember her taking in him was when he had a hairball, and she read up about how to care for cats with hairballs.

Toby spent most of his time hiding under my bed or in the basement.  Mom would tell me to take him outside to go potty, but he would refuse to come out. I had to find him in a dark corner downstairs or slide under my narrow bed and grab him so that he wouldn’t make a mess in the house.  I wonder if Toby and I were afraid of the same things in that house.

I don’t know how I got this pic of Toby in the living room!

One day my mother screamed. “Look what that cat’s done to my drapes!!” I ran into the living room. Tears streamed down her cheeks. The silk drapes had dozens of snags on them. Unfortunately, the drapes were the most elegant furnishing in our bungalow. They were cast-offs from one of my grandmother’s wealthy clients, and she had altered them for my parents.  I realized then that my secretive cat ventured out to the living room when everyone was asleep or not home.

A few months later, we picked up the baby brother I had been waiting for from the adoption agency office. Ted was a 6-week-old infant with a red rash covering his face. My mother hadn’t taken care of a baby for many years, and she became nervous and worried, imagining dangers.

One day that spring, when I got off the school bus, my father met me in front of the house. I was not used to seeing him home during the day. He sat me down and explained that Toby was gone. “Toby had to go away because of your new baby brother.” He told me he took Toby to a house in the country where he could live with more freedom. I don’t remember particularly believing him, but grief welled up in me like bile. Up to that point in my life, the only other serious loss I had encountered was three years before when I accidentally saw my mother cramming my white blankie into the garbage. Later, my mother would tell me, “Cats are dangerous to babies, Luanne. Toby could accidentally smother Ted.” But in those moments after I arrived home, only my father was there for me.

I still feel ashamed about what happened next. To stop my tears, Dad offered to take me to the store right then to pick out any toy I wanted. I had never in my life been able to pick out a toy. A Golden Book, yes, but not a toy. When I did receive something lovely, it was usually a hand-me-down or a gift my grandmother had sewn. We always had enough food to eat, but we were upwardly mobile poor, and my parents never bought me trendy, name-brand toys. While my friends had Barbie dolls, I had a Miss Suzette doll from Grant’s basement.

Although I continued to cry, I followed Dad to the car, and we drove to a fancy children’s store I had only seen from the outside. Once inside, my tears and confusion made it difficult to concentrate. I tried to focus my eyes, and the first item I noticed was a black imitation patent leather Barbie doll case. It epitomized the type of toys I could never dream of owning, so I pointed at it.

On the way home, I clutched the case in my hand, knowing I had betrayed Toby. I had begged to have him, which altered the course of his life. Then I accepted an empty plastic box with a handle in exchange for his silky fur and beating heart.

###

I don’t know what ever really happened to Toby. I think it’s probably true that he went to live in the country because my father knew a lot of people and could have easily made that happen. But was he safe in his new home? That I don’t know. I hope he was happier than at our house. My father yelled too much, and that probably scared Toby. Since he would hide under my bed, I have to assume he wanted me to protect him. But I couldn’t protect him while I was at school. My parents would have never intentionally hurt Toby, but they didn’t make his life any easier. While I think it’s a likely story about Toby going to live in the country, I have never actually asked my parents if that is what really happened.

Alternative end to memory: I asked one of my parents, and he/she lied to me because they know I love animals and freak out about any harm to them.

I really can’t remember. What do you think?

 

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Filed under #amrevising, #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

Nonfiction Story Up at Twist in Time Magazine

My nonfiction story about an important little house in my past was published in the new issue of Twist in Time Magazine. Thank you to editor Renee Firer.

And guess what? Merril Smith has two poems in the issue, too!

You can find my story here:

The Changing House

The issue with Merril’s poems and some other excellent pieces is here:

Twist in Time Magazine Issue 9

Here is a photo of The Changing House itself in  its very first manifestation.

And here is a photo I took of some of the neighborhood kids with my little camera. My brother is in this pic, second from our left.

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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Essay, Inspiration, Literary Journals, Memoir, Nonfiction

Making Sense of the Chaos

A week out from my last pandemic post, and here I am just another week deeper into Arizona-covid-season. Ugh. Is it possible that the heat makes the virus grow faster?

I’ve been thinking about how I don’t want to move very far from my writing, but that I don’t feel like actually writing. What I really like to do these days is organize. Last week I told you about organizing my poems. Organizing my genealogy research. I’m organizing my house chores.

So why?

I guess I am trying to make structure and sense out of chaos. Because this virus does seem incredibly chaotic. They still know so little about it, but some of the possibilities emerging show the virus acting very unpredictably and unlike other viruses.

There is a possibility that my cousin’s son who has been fighting for his life for a month on a ventilator could be battling covid. But when he entered the hospital he tested negative. His wife is an aide at that very hospital, coming home from work every day with hospital germs. I don’t know. We’ve all speculated so much that our brains are already twisted inside out. The thing is, he’s only 32 and has a 6-year-old son. But he’s been in a medically-induced coma for almost three weeks now. When he entered the hospital, he wasn’t all that sick–he posted on Facebook right away about what was going on. How does a young person with no pre-existing conditions get this sick this fast and nobody knows what’s wrong with him?!

Yes, I feel depressed about him being so sick. It’s that feeling underneath everything that something awful is happening no matter how blue the sky. Please pray for him if you’re so inclined. Or send some super special healing vibes toward SW Michigan. His name is Matt.

In the midst, though, I need to be there for other people. My daughter put off looking for a wedding dress that had been scheduled in April. She begged me to go with her at the end of June, so I went with her Friday. The shop scheduled an appointment just for her–no other clients allowed inside during our time. We all wore masks. I used my sanitizer a few times and even sprayed my chair with Lysol ;). You can laugh, but I am getting nervous about the numbers here in Arizona mounting every day.

It was good to spend time with my daughter. Originally we wanted her future MIL to be with us, but we had to Facetime her once the gown was selected. She’s stuck in New Jersey (on the golf course haha). It was very easy to pick out a dress. Our taste is similar, she already had an idea of what she wanted,  I already had an idea of what she wanted, and we both knew what would look good on her and what would not. She found the most gorgeous dress I’ve  ever seen. And they are going to alter it in a way that will “customize” the dress and be exactly what she wants.

All the main components of the wedding have been selected now. They found a rabbi they love. Well, he’s a …Longhorn. Daughter and her fiancé are Sooners! Some Red River Rivalry haha. The rabbi will be the main officiant. Then they are looking for a priest or pastor to work with the rabbi. They have a stunning venue. But if they need to only have a few of us at the wedding because of that nasty covid, at least the dress and the rabbi can both still be used.

I almost forgot to mention: I got my last acceptance to complete my 2020 goal. Twist in Time magazine selected a short nonfiction piece for publication in a couple of days. Woot.

I am going to close comments here. I hope you don’t mind. I still need to catch up on comments from last week. I also need to add a little bacon grease to food I set in front of Tiger. Yup. Only way she’ll eat it. Then I need to organize something.

This is not the dress!

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My (Feline) Nursing Sideline

Tiger Queenie Princess Mimi Josefina has not been herself lately. For the last year and a half she has become pickier and pickier about her food. But it has gotten so bad in the last few weeks that for the most part all she will eat is a tiny bit of shredded chicken, a tiny bit of fried ground beef, and/or Temptations treats in seafood or tuna flavor. When she’s had enough appetite stimulant and this Pepto-Bismol type stuff for cats to coat her tummy, she might eat the tiniest amount of Friskies chicken or Weruva Lamb Burgini.

So I brought her to the doctor last week who took her from me at curbside (tears shed from both Tiger and me!) and did blood and pee tests, as well as a physical exam. When the lab results came back, the vet recommended an abdominal ultrasound. I said yes. Tiger is sixteen, but then she is only sixteen. Her sister Pear is twenty, and Tiger seems so healthy in general. The vet even said she appears healthy. Except for her mild to moderate kidney disease.

Next stop was the specialist to do the ultrasound. While I waited in my car (more tears shed at letting Tiger go through it all alone), the specialist called me and said nothing showed up on the ultrasound. She explained her theories and suggested a chest xray and a biopsy of her intestines (going through her esophagus). I approved the chest xray, but not the biopsy.

Tiger is my smallest cat, and coupled with her age, I don’t want them doing something so invasive. And to what end? To find out she has lymphoma? Then what?

The chest xray turned up nothing, so it’s possible that she either has some irritable bowel something or other going on or has lymphoma. That’s when I got the purple medicine that is like Pepto-Bismol–it coats the stomach. We also got Cerenia for nausea. The thought is that Tiger must have a tummy ache that makes her not want to eat.

The only other treatment we can try is steroids, which I am reluctant to do because of her kidney disease. I will see if we need to do that. I am focused on trying to get food in her every day.

 

Tiger on the warm laundry in the basket

In the evening, I lie on the couch with a book or my Kindle, and Pear Blossom is at my side and Tiger lies just below her, also at my side. Pear is twenty, so she’s Tiger’s big sister. Sometimes Perry lies on the back of the couch because he’s a jealous boy and wants to be on the couch with Mama, too. But he’s starting to realize he needs to not annoy the two old ladies.

 

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Mamas in the Yard

It’s been five years since the hummingbird mama grew two babies to adulthood in a nest right outside my back door–and then a few weeks later nurtured a second nest of babies! I was lucky enough to capture on video a baby leaving the nest in flight for its very first time.

Now it’s May once again, and we have two hummingbird nests in the yard! These are in the front yard–one in an oleander tree and the other in a wind mobile.

See her nest right there in the middle of the photo?

Look for the mama in the next photo! It’s a little harder haha.

She looks like she’s trying to blend right in. Here she and the nest are from a different angle.

Right underneath the mobile are a few flats of flowers that we have not yet planted. She keeps going to them for nectar as if we set them there for her babies.

Maybe these mamas are the babies of the ones I saw fly off into their lives!

Cat news: Perry is so stinken smart. It’s become clear that he absolutely knows what “Hold on” means and is willing to do it every time I say it. If we are walking somewhere in the house (he follows me), and I have to turn back for something, I say, “Hold on.” He then sits right where he is and waits for me to come back and then picks up following me again! If I were so inclined I think our boy might be trainable for Youtube.

One last note: I hope these mama hummingbirds and my cute boy Perry give you a little glimpse of hope after a tragic and sad week. Here is Emily Dickinson on the subject of hope:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

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Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Nonfiction, Writing

A Walk in the Neighborhood, Arizona Style

What do I see and hear and smell on a walk near my house?

From the moment I step outside I smell flower fragrance. So I take a big sniff and keep walking. I hear songbirds singing.

Next I see the seedpods. Everywhere. Here are just a few.

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Then I see the pretty Mexican bird of paradise plant.  See how fiery and unique the blossoms are!

I come upon flowering saguaros.

 

Closer.

The sounds I hear are silence, then a rush of cars, then this: babies in their nest–inside a saguaro.

Apparently some baby birds are very noisy when being fed.

On the writing front, I wrote a little essay this weekend. We’ll see what happens with it. Best part: #amwriting

Make it a good week if you can figure out a way!

Leaving you with a wild baby in my yard. This is a baby kingsnake.  They are not only harmless to humans, but they kill rattlesnakes. We have been nurturing a family of kingsnakes ever since we moved here. Isn’t he cute?!

 

 

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Growing Things

On Friday we planted new pentas, vincas, coleus, and marigolds. Daughter and her fiance helped MUCH. We left a lot of the old flowers, although they were a bit leggy, mainly because of the cost and also because we have been so busy that we didn’t have time to do more.

When the pandemic began, I was eager to be a pioneer woman and even froze eggs and lemons in case we had a shortage. Now I am very ragged around the edges, having been overworked by all the dealings with the government and business-in-the-time-of-coronavirus. I am used to always being busy, usually thrive on it, and yet I will say that I am too exhausted at this point. And I don’t see a letup. Plus, when I get this tired, my legs and feet swell miserable (from my primary lymphedema). That aggravates my “hip-leg.” I have a painful condition with my left leg up near the groin that I refer to as my hip-leg. It feels like a twisting nerve and is particularly and suddenly painful when I put my foot down on the ground. The swelling makes it worse. And the exhaustion and work-work-work makes it worser yet.

But I don’t have the virus. And neither does my family. And my kitties are a lot of work, but so cute. And I have new flowers. So there you go.

We also have lizards galore this year. And the quail couple with their single file of bobbing babies. You see, I can keep finding cool stuff to distract myself!

My friend who wrote this very popular essay years ago (Lake Erie) teaches creative writing to seniors. Because of the pandemic, her classes now are on Zoom, and my mom is taking one! I am so happy she is doing so because it’s good for her to interact with others, although it’s on phone Zoom (no video) and not in person. Also, she is a reporter for the community newspaper (used to be an editor for it), but with the pandemic she can’t interview people in person. My mother’s community has a big apartment complex, a nursing home, an assisted living, a rehab facility, and garden homes (duplexes). She lives in a garden home, so she has more space and more freedom than if she lived in one of the other buildings.

I call my mother regularly, but it’s hard to find new things to talk about when you’re not out doing new stuff! And she’s not going to doctors or seeing friends, so she doesn’t have that to talk about. She does read my genealogy blog The Family Kalamazoo, so that makes her happy because I am almost always yapping about her family. Most recently I’ve been working on my 3x great-grandfather who was a “prosperous celery farmer” (according to his obit) in Kalamazoo. I had no idea when I was growing up there that my ancestor was one of the farmers who raised Kalamazoo’s “famous” crop. The thing that interested me most about him was discovering that as a widower he married and divorced a woman after he immigrated to the U.S. It almost looks like he married her so she would help raise his six children. I wonder what he discovered he didn’t like. How I would love to see the divorce papers! I have all kinds of fictional scenarios popping up in my head.

When I was growing up, my dad planted a plum tree in our backyard in Michigan. He used to take pix of us next to the tree, watching the tree and us kids growing, I guess. After my father passed away five years ago (last Thursday), my mom had a plum tree planted on the edge of the woods behind her house at the senior complex.

This weekend I found out I got the Volunteer of the Month award for April at the shelter. Yes, well, so many of the other volunteers couldn’t do their jobs because the shelter has been closed to volunteers for the pandemic. However, my work increased because I make the adoption calls (more adoptions!) and do data entry for those. I also took on the shelter’s Twitter account, which is a challenge right now because just as soon as I get info on a new dog it gets adopted :)! The reason this is occurring is in part because people are stepping up to adopt during this period. But it is also for another reason. Our shelter is a no-kill that functions largely by rescuing e-list dogs from the county kill shelter. (The cats seem to magically appear at our shelter, by the way). Our shelter is only bringing in a limited number of animals because without volunteers, the staff can only take care of just so many hungry mouths.

Take care of yourselves, peeps. If you have Instagram, be sure to check out Bobthewritingcat! That big-hearted curmudgeon makes me happy and teary. As Bob always says, go wash your hands!!!

 

 

 

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Filed under #writerlife, #writerslife, Arizona, Family history, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Memoir, Nonfiction