Hard for me, harder for her

September 8, 2013

Two years ago, my cousin and her fiancé were in a car accident. They were stopped in traffic in an interstate highway construction zone. They were behind a semi-truck. Another one barreled up from behind. It turned them and their little Honda into sandwich filling. They both had serious head injuries. I suppose that’s redundant. When is a head injury not serious? When is it not life-changing?

I will preface whatever else I write today with the acknowledgement that anything I felt or feel is nothing compared to what my cousin, her fiancé, and both their families struggled with and will continue to struggle with for the rest of all their lives. I know that I’m just a bystander and that in life, it’s not about me.

But this blog entry is. The immediate aftermath of the accident ranks right up there as one of the hardest things I’ve been through. That’s why it’s been more than a week since I last wrote. I had to work up to this. Selfish.

Me and cousin A, a week after her birth. One of the only times in my life that I've held a baby.

Me and cousin A, a week after her birth. One of the only times in my life that I’ve held a baby.

I have a small family. I’m an only child, my mom’s an only child, and my dad has one brother. My uncle and his wife have two children. The oldest, A, the one in the accident, is seventeen years younger than I, and our two branches of the family never lived nearby geographically. My cousins and my parents are pretty close, but not them and me.

Nevertheless, when my parents called to tell me about the accident, the family instincts kicked in. The first thing to do was shepherd my other cousin, A’s sister M, through her overnight layover from Montana through Minneapolis to Michigan. I brought her back to my place for a few hours of fitful sleep, then got her back out to the airport. M is outdoorsy. She didn’t care about a refreshing shower.

The next day at work, I began making my own arrangements to go to Michigan. Fortunately my schedule usually can be pretty flexible, so I was the first of my family to be able to go. I didn’t know what I was in for.

Again, because of our tiny family size, I haven’t had to deal with many misfortunes. My parents are ridiculously healthy. My four grandparents all made it to old age, so there weren’t any big surprises when they died in their 80s, 90s, and, finally, 105. I’ve attended the funerals of friends’ loved ones, but those weren’t people I had a huge vested interest in. I had my own visit to the emergency room a few years ago for what turned out to be severe heartburn brought on by a week of eating tomato-based dishes breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don’t laugh. Women tend not to think they’re having heart attacks. I didn’t want to be a statistic. Twelve hours later it all made sense.

My point is, nothing in my life had prepared me for the shock of seeing my cousin lying unconscious in a hospital bed.

You see it in movies and in soap operas. You see actors with fake needles in their arms and fake tubes in their mouths. You see actors weeping at the bedsides of their actor fake relatives. It doesn’t prepare you for the first time you see a real person whom you actually care about lying unconscious in a hospital bed with needles in her arms, a tube down her throat, a tube in her neck, her delicate hands that could play the violin so well lying limp at the side of her induced comatose body. It just doesn’t. And then you go into the next room and see her beloved lying there in the same condition.

A and A (my cousin’s fiancé is also an A, also a musician, and I think it’s appropriate that I’m not using their full names) had just finished packing up their Michigan home to move to Boston for job opportunities, with their wedding to follow soon thereafter in Wisconsin where my aunt and uncle live(d).

I am an emotional ice queen. It’s not that I don’t feel stuff, but I don’t often give much away outwardly. I partly get that from my dad. With my mom, nothing is unknown. She doesn’t filter, and she kind of badgers and passive-aggressives to have things go her preferred way. My dad, on the other hand, internalizes, maintains a pretty even keel, and mostly goes with the flow. I internalize, too, combined with the life experience of failed relationships and not wanting to make that emotional commitment too soon. I try to save my energy for the things that matter more.

I guess I had been saving it up for the moment I saw my aunt and uncle, which was followed closely by the moment I was ushered into A’s hospital room. I became a puddle of mush. My aunt and uncle had the advantage of having had a week already to culture their disbelief and numbness. I was fresh.

I stayed for a week. I met A’s good friends and cousins-in-law from my aunt’s side. Everybody was trying to be optimistic about A’s chances. I feel guilty because at the time I was more in the realistic camp as it seemed in those early days. I felt guilty for not having been a better cousin in the previous thirty-one years. At A’s bedside I promised to do better, but I haven’t. I still feel guilty.

I’m happy to report that I’ve been proved wrong about A’s recovery, at least. Again I’ll say that nothing you learn about head injuries leads you to think that things will return to the old normal. But A is leading a decent life, considering her circumstances. She remains in Michigan and my aunt and uncle live there with her. She has resumed many professional musician activities, though she has issues with short-term memory.

I don’t know the status of A’s relationship with her fiancé, whether they are still considered to be engaged. He, too, has made a recovery, but is not as well physically. He has paralysis, which includes not being able to swallow, and is confined to a wheelchair, though his mental faculties are intact and strong. He is back in Indiana with his parents.

I don’t know how to deftly wrap this up. Thanks for reading.

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Judge me as you must, but I am glad my parents are gone. I am not a people person, and having two extra bodies in my space for the equivalent of four days (three extra bodies, if you count their rabbit, but she was really mellow this visit) just about did me in, especially with the frequent butting of heads in which my mom and I engage.

This morning I was really glad to go to work—not because I love my coworkers, though they’re mostly fine—but because I was thrilled to get back to a normal situation. Tonight, I came home and have just sat and watched TV. I caught up with Downton Abbey, then got depressed as I knew I would by the documentary Food, Inc., then watched a couple of hours of Anthony Bourdain as an antidote. All accompanied by beer. Now it is approaching midnight and I really wish I had about six more hours and six more beers, because among other things (I don’t know what), I’d like to watch the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie. 

I cope by overreacting.

In a weird way the unexpected holiday greeting that I found in the mail tonight when I picked it up for the first time since Thursday was very comforting, reassuring me that my own life still exists, post-parental visit. Thanks, Meghan 🙂

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The good news is that despite what I thought would be mistimings and failed recipes, the Christmas dinner was pretty darned good after all. The bad news is that my mom and I have reached our point of more rather than less head-butting with each other. Can I just hide under a paper bag now, please? No? Okay, then I’ll sit here in bed in the dark with my iBook again. Illuminated screens in the dark are a great way to feign sleeping in order to be done with socializing.

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I thought the turkey in particular turned out above average. This time I differently blasted it at 450°F for the first fifteen minutes to sear the outside and hopefully lock the moisture in, then cooked it at 400°F until the little thingy popped out, which was about an hour sooner than I was expecting. Consequently, I barely had my side dishes started before the turkey was finished. I overroasted the Brussels sprouts. The butternut squash gratin, which looked great on paper but then which seemed quite less than spectacular while putting together, ended up being everybody’s favorite part of the meal. I paired the redux of yesterday’s excellent homemade cherry pie with Odell Friek, the combination of which I had been anticipating all weekend and it didn’t disappoint. Nor did my (now) perennial favorite, Ommegang Three Philosophers, with the meal. Thanks again to Tori and Aaron for introducing me to that one a couple years ago.

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But then it came to cleaning up time, and in my mother’s infinite desire to be helpful and my nearly infinite desire for her to just sit down and relax and stay out of my way, we had a major clash. I’d tell you the gory details, but I guess it wouldn’t be very becoming. Suffice it to say my mom and I are both very stubborn.

And yay, there’s a day and a half to go. Stay tuned.

A week of Christmas: bug-up!

December 25, 2011

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I thought the highlight of the day would be the awesome cherry pie I made—it was good—but the most fun turned out to be playing a game called “bug up” that my parents and I frequently played when I was a youngster. (The sausage and mushroom strata turned out the best that it ever has, too. I made it with whole grain bread this time instead of sourdough.)

“Bug Up” might also be called “7 Up.” We aren’t sure. If I weren’t typing this in the dark on my laptop in bed, I’d take the time to look it up. Cribbage is the only card game I really ever got into, so you probably know more than I. 

Each person has an equal number of chips to begin with and you deal all the cards out. If the number of players doesn’t divide equally into 52 then somebody get stuck with an extra card. The person to the left of the dealer starts by playing a 7 if they have one. If they don’t, they have to “bug up” (throw a chip in) to the pot. From each 7 you build upward from the 8 and downward from the 6, by suit. If you can’t play a card, you relinquish a chip to the pot. After a player plays their last card, the remaining players throw one chip for each card left in their hands into the pot, which the winner gets. 

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We always used Deelie Bobbers as our chips. These, I think I will take the time to look up and link to. I can remember playing with the Deelie Bobbers a little bit in general, but all you could do was stick them together and make shapes. I suppose some people got complicated with them, but Lincoln Logs and Legos would have held more allure for me.

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Anyway, in theory, you keep playing rounds until people run completely out of chips. In practice, that can make for a lo-o-o-o-ong session. We played for three hours with one cherry pie break. Cats, it seems, like to play, too. And they like cherry pie.

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My strategy thus far has been working. I’ve spent most of my waking time in the kitchen which I find pleasurable anyway, and it’s proving to be an excellent way to keep busy. And we all benefit because we’re eating mighty well this weekend. But after two straight days in the kitchen, I was ready for the mindless relief of tonight’s card playing.

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After I went into denial about the $130 grocery tab yesterday and just started making stuff, I thought everything was fine. Until 3:00 a.m., that is.

I went to bed feeling pretty accomplished. I had:

– baked the chicken for the Tex-Mex soup
– concurrently baked the turkey sausage for the Sausage and Mushroom Strata
– concurrently cooked a bag of pinto beans, some of which to throw in the soup, the rest to freeze
– made the Tex-Mex soup
– cooked a bag of garbanzo beans, some of which to throw into the Greek Salad with Sardines, the rest to freeze
– made the three helpings of Greek Salad, hold the sardines until I’m read to eat it
– washed all the kitchenware as I went, as I have a tiny kitchen (I reused the Dutch oven for three jobs without having to wash it)
– relaxed with a delicious Bellatoria frozen pizza and several tasty beers that I picked up at the Ale Jail the day before
– relaxed with three hours of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece

However, it’s true that I did no housecleaning in preparation for having visitors, nor did I do any of the work overtime that I could and probably should have.

But, I was asleep before 11:00 and optimistic that I’d be perfectly able to get up early to go work out and then continue on with a productive Monday.

Enter 3:00 a.m.

Okay, fine, I have to get up to go to the bathroom. With the amount of water that I drink, that’s to be expected one to several times a night. Usually I’m able to fall back to sleep immediately upon regaining my horizontal position.

Not so last night.

I am a more than occasional sufferer of Sunday Night Insomnia. I’m not going to look it up now for a link to information, but it is a recognized condition in which you can’t sleep Sunday nights because you’re stressing out about the work week ahead. 

I am stressed out about work. Last week, the entire office ground to a halt on regular projects so that we could bang out this iPad app that we are making in time for the Christmas hangover. That means I am now a week further behind on the work that I’m already behind on. That means that I know it won’t be long until it starts being wondered if others should kick in to help me, and once again I won’t be able to finish a couple of jobs that I have good ideas for. That means I’m stressed  out. Couple that with my self-inflicted stress about my parents’ impending Christmas weekend visit, and blammo! I was awake until after 6:00 a.m.

It is not helpful when that happens.

I had a reasonably productive day today, but the specter of stress plus PMS was lurking in the background the whole time. I tried to minimize the level of interaction I had with people in order to prevent as much crankiness as possible. I don’t think I was entirely successful. I wasn’t the only one who was a little off their game today.

The evening was a brighter note, though, as I bowled well (808 for four games) and am getting to bed before midnight. Hopefully I’m tired enough that I will sleep all night and get up in the morning for that workout I missed today.

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I don’t know why, but my parents’ impending Christmas visit seems like it will be twice the usual length. In reality, it’s only twenty-four, perhaps thirty-six, hours longer than normal. Nevertheless, today I made an ambitious menu and appropriately raided the grocery store.

I spent $130. I don’t spend this much on groceries in a month. (Bad panorama, but it shows everything except the dozen and a half eggs.)

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A little of it goes toward my breakfasts (eggs and whatever), three lunches (Greek Salad with Sardines), and three suppers (my refried bean pizza staple) in this upcoming week. A little more went into another incarnation of the delicious Tex Mex Soup that I invented a few weeks ago, which I’ll offer up at the office potluck we’re having on Tuesday.

For my parents’ visit (they arrive Friday for supper and will leave Tuesday), I have put myself on the following ambitious cooking schedule.

Friday:

Lunch: Vegetable Soup (I’ll eat a little, we’ll have the rest for subsequent lunches)
Dinner: Sweet and Sour Pork (looks delicious but will be challenging for my traditionally-eating parents)

Saturday:

make: Cherry Pie (my mom and I like pecan pie, but my dad likes fruit pies and this cherry pie is outstanding, and I’m in the mood to make it.)
Dinner: Sausage and Mushroom Strata (my mom loves this and it’s easy to make)

Sunday:

Dinner: Turkey (I decided to go easy, since I’m doing so much during these few days); Butternut Squash Gratin; roasted Brussels sprouts; salad; cherry pie

Monday:

Leftovers 🙂

I will follow up with photos of the completed dishes and meals.

Ipod-cord_blog

It has been a week since my cousin and her fiancé were in the horrible car accident and it is time for me to drive from Minneapolis to Ann Arbor to spend a couple days being supportive. Crucial to the twelve-hour drive will be my third-generation iPod, a relic from 2003.

I haven’t researched it, but my personal anecdotal evidence indicates that this model of iPod was very hard on its battery. I’ve replaced the battery in mine twice; it seems to have the ability to retain a meaningful charge only for about six months, then the battery wears out. As such, I use the iPod plugged in 99.9% of the time. If I’m only driving a short way, say, the twenty minutes to bowling, I might dare to go unplugged. But on the way back home, I’m lucky if I get an additional five minutes out of it.

So you can imagine that I was bummed when the just-as-old cigarette-lighter power cord that I used with my iPod finally frayed its wires to nonfunctionality half a year ago. Toodling around town it’s not a big deal to have to listen to the radio, because the Twin Cities are home to the awesome Minnesota Public Radio station, The Current.

I bought a new cord that I thought would cover my dinosaur, but it didn’t (but it works for my iPhone, so I didn’t return it). When I talked to my dad and made the decision to drive to Michigan, urgency in finding a new old cord online set it. I didn’t have much luck and the shipping options wouldn’t have gotten it to me in time anyway.

I got out my loupe—by which I mean, I took off my glasses that correct my extreme nearsightedness and which now need their third update on the bifocal part, so when I need to see something clearly at extreme closeness I just remove them from my face and it’s perfect—and examined the old cord more carefully. Where the cord meets the Dock Connector end had been frayed forever, but I now perceived that one of the five or six tiny-gauge wires contained within had broken. There was enough of an end sticking out from the Dock Connector that I knew I could strip the two ends of it and twist it back together.

I did so and took the cord and my iPod out to my car. As I walked across the street to the parking lot, I crossed paths with a gang of six of the type of ne’er-do-wells who frequent my quiet block just off the main street to do their druggy nefarious deeds. As displeased as I am that those sorts impose themselves on my neighborhood, it must be said that they usually keep to themselves and don’t often engage with anyone else who might be present and move on after fifteen or twenty minutes. I traversed the thirty yards to my car unfettered.

I plugged in the cord and iPod to the cigarette lighter and held my breath. Yes! The iPod gave the cheerful trill that meant it was receiving power and its screen shone with that cool blue backlight! (Yes, yes, as a graphic designer I know that all blues are cool.) I gave myself a mental pat on the back and eyed the six guys who were loitering against the fence across from my place. They were eyeing me back and when I got out of my car rather than driving away, they sauntered off.

I am most happy that I’ll be able to use the iPod in my car again because I’ve gotten into listening to the Harry Potter audio books, as some of you know. What better venue than as a captive audience on the interstate? I’ll also be able to crank the The Asteroids Galaxy Tour.

I didn’t used to have interest in Harry Potter. I had never read the books, didn’t go to the theater to see the movies, and when I’d come across a movie on TV I just couldn’t get into it. Then my newish co-worker Aaron casually mentioned that he had all the audio books (I have subsequently learned that he’s quite the HP nerd, in the good way). He brought me the first one and I started listening, without any expectation of caring at all. I was quite surprised to find that I like Harry Potter a lot!

The audio books have been the perfect way for my particular self to enjoy this magical universe. Even though I’m halfway through listening to the fourth book and am loving it, I’m fairly certain that if I had the paper book in front of me, I’d be snoozing within seven minutes of the start of any reading session and wouldn’t have made it a quarter of the way through the first book. When I finish a book, Aaron brings me his DVD of the movie so that I can watch it on the weekend.

I’m kind of rambling, and vacillating between serious and frivolous, because though I’m going to visit my cousin in the hospital, and my uncle and aunt and other cousin, I’m unsure what I’ll be supposed to do once I arrive. I guess it’s just the act of being there that matters. I’m also nervous because everybody who’s been posting on the CaringBridge and Facebook pages has seemed really religious miracle-hoping, and I’m really not. I’m atheist. An optimist, usually, but an atheist. My biggest apprehension is that I’ll be asked to participate in prayer. It will be awkward if I don’t, and I’ll feel hypocritical if I do. When your daughter is lying in the intensive care unit with little practical hope of a meaningful recovery and you want to pray, I don’t imagine that you want to hear that your family member doesn’t.

So here’s a photo of my side of the family—my uncle and aunt and cousins, me and my parents—in a happier times, at my grandmother’s birthday in 2002 and at her funeral in 2009. Happier, because my grandmother died simply of old age at 105, and because nobody had been in a car accident.

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Inside looking out

July 28, 2011

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I have spent a lot of time in my life feeling like I’m on the outside looking in. As a kid, I wasn’t popular—not unpopular, but not part of what I perceived to be the in-crowd, and now that I think back on who at the time I thought those people were, there probably wasn’t as much of a difference as I might have thought. In high school I didn’t really feel like I was part of any particular crowd, neither in nor out, just there, with my little circle of friends.

——–

24 hours later:

Just as I thought I was getting into the swing of things last night, I got a phone call from my dad. I think I’ve talked before about how small my immediate family is. My dad was calling with the unfortunate news that the older of my two first cousins and her fiancé had been in an awful car accident earlier in the day and that they were in intensive care with head injuries. My other cousin, her younger sister, was traveling to be with her via Minneapolis and was at the airport with a long layover, and I needed to go get her.

All of a sudden I was the sole representative of the in-crowd.

I wouldn’t call my relationship with my family close. That undersells it. It isn’t close, it isn’t far, it just is. We all like each other well enough but don’t bust our butts getting together. My aunt and uncle do the best job of making the effort to stay in touch. My parents have always seen more of my cousins than I have of my aunt and uncle.

The two parts to my relationship with my cousins is that the older of the two, the one who was in the accident, is seventeen years younger than I. Her sister is twenty years younger. And we were geographically separated by hundreds of miles. Last summer was the first time that I got together with either of my cousins without any of our parents around, when the older happened to be in town for a professional engagement. Last night was the first time I met up with the younger, one-on-one. Her layover was long enough for us to come back to my place so that she could close her eyes for a few hours. 

I’ve never had to do the family thing before but I know that she appreciated it, even though we don’t come close to needing a full two hands to count the number of times we’ve seen each other during the course of our lives.

For forty-eight years, it was always somebody else who had extraordinary personal circumstances. Now it’s me and my six people. It’s a weird sensation.

Learning to fly

June 6, 2011

Poohsticks_blog020

I had occasion today to recall being brave enough to make my first bike ride without the training wheels. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I can tell you exactly where I was.

This might take a while and I might ramble.

When I was still a squirt (say, ages three through six), we’d spend the summers in Bloomington, Indiana, because my dad was working on his doctorate degree in music theory at Indiana University. It took a while because he only did summers. During the school year, he was a professor of music at Ohio Northern University. That’s a whole other topic, ONU.

There were a few kid milestones that happened during those summers at IU. I won’t claim to remember if they’re in chronological order. But they did happen. Oh blargh, now I’m calling my mom to check. Hang on …

Okay, it was during my ages three through seven that I went. My dad went one additional year without my mom and me.

The main milestone I want to focus on is learning to ride a bike, or more precisely, the day I ditched the training wheels. Because I do remember it. What I didn’t confirm with my mom just now was how old I was, but I feel like it was the summer when I turned six. (I was one of those fortunate kids whose birthday is in the middle of summer and no fuss was ever made in class during the year.)

I had a hand-me-down bike, an old Schwinn from a neighbor. I thought it was copper, my mom said it was maroon. On that momentous day, I was riding up the diagonal sidewalk between the two apartment buildings—the one where we lived, and the other one where my little best friend Angie M lived (Angie was a year older than I). Somebody, probably my mom, I guess, because my dad would have been in class, noticed that I wasn’t putting any balance on the training wheels and said, okay, let’s take them off. And we did. And that was it.

The other thing I remember about that day (and I’m sure it’s entirely possible that I’m blurring events together because, let’s face it, that was forty years ago) is that along that sidewalk, just about where it met the other diagonal sidewalk with which it made an X, I came upon a squirrel that wasn’t too frightened by people and seemed willing to let me walk up to it with outstretched hand. One of the other adults present sternly warned me not to interact with the skwerl because it might be rabid and if it bit me, I’d die. There was some other thing about stray dogs peeing in the sandbox where we kids liked to play. Yay, adults and their scaremongering.

Other things I remember about those years, definitely not in chronological order:

My mom and I would play Poohsticks on one particular little bridge over the Jordan River which ran right through the middle of campus. As you’ve learned, in addition to rabbits, I have a history of Pooh.

We did spend one entire year there, so I attended kindergarten. I got along well with my teacher. She’d walk me home sometimes. In class, I learned the classic “My Napsack on My Back” song (val-da-ree …) On the walks home, she taught me another song that had slightly naughty words, that her husband disapproved of her teaching one so young as I. Maybe she wasn’t my teacher. Maybe she was just a friend of my parents’.

I remember vaulting off a stone wall that I’m going to estimate was at least six feet tall. There were four or five of us kids doing it. We had no fear of mortality.

Angie and I came to be in possession of a shopping cart for a couple of days. We pushed each other around in it, and we turned it over and made a fort out of it.

Angie and I also set up a lemonade stand on the other side of the apartment complex on a busier street. We made a little bit. Angie figured it all out and I remember feeling like I didn’t walk away with as much as should have been my fair share, you know, probably $2.25 instead of $2.75.

IU might also have been where my interest in science kindled. For whatever reason, my dad the music professor had a class in a lecture hall in the geology building. In the lobby was what to me seemed a moon-sized globe, as well as a two-storey pendulum. I found them both to be fascinating. I attended class with my dad one day, and it was on that day that a rare earthquake occurred, the only one I’ve ever been witness to, thankfully. It wasn’t much, just enough to be felt and to cause everyone in the hall to look at each other in “did you feel that?” wonderment.

I think what this boils down to is that I really fondly remember my time at Indiana University. You know, and my childhood.

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Post script:
My dad’s doctorate thesis was not approved. He did not get his PhD. Years later when I myself was in college, I took an editing class. We had to come up with a long manuscript to edit and I convinced my dad to let me use his thesis.

Top photo: me, by my mom.
Bottom photo: a youngster who freed herself of training wheels today and was the inspiration for this post but who shall remain nameless, by her dad Tyler, an acquaintance of mine. If I had one of myself peddling around at that age, I would have used it instead.

Fake plastic cat

May 23, 2011

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About a year after I bought my place, my mom gave me this plastic cat lawn ornament. I have amassed quite a few rabbit nick-nacks but I have always made it clear that I don’t want to get into collecting cat things. Every now and then, though, my mom breaks that rule if she finds something that reminds her of one of my cats. Such was this lawn ornament when it sported its original coat of black paint.

In the intervening years, the black paint has worn off and I’m left with a tacky orange cat. Neither of my cats is orange. I wish I could say that I keep it around because I can’t bear to throw away something that was lovingly given to me by my mother who only had the best intentions, a thing which, every time she visits, she makes sure is looking into my window so that she can see it when she sits in my rocking chair.

But I can’t say that. I just haven’t gotten around to “relocating” it yet. So for the time being I will hope that nobody rolls their eyes too hard when they notice it.