• My Words

    Goodbye 2017, Welcome 2018!

    2017 started out seemingly determined to take me down. January of this year started with getting my son into residential treatment for drug addiction. We got him into one, only to have him walk away a few days later. He was hospitalized a few days after that, and then walked away again. We struggled to find other options.

    In February, while a heavy snowstorm was settling over our valley, we gave him the choice of going back to treatment or finding somewhere else to live. He chose to leave. I have never experienced a heartbreak like I did that night. There is nothing natural as a mom to tell your child to leave, especially when you know they are suffering.

    He spent a month being homeless before giving in to treatment, and while in RTC he did well. It wasn’t too long after getting out that he relapsed and became homeless again. I dreaded what I knew can be a continuous cycle of watching someone battle addiction. I kept working with my therapist, and occasionally had contact with my son going into the summer.

    In the middle of the night, one night at the end of June, he came to the house to let us know he was going back to treatment. He’d reached out to someone from his previous treatment program, and was asking for a ride there in the morning. After we agreed he left, and was back the next day, just like he said he would be. I dropped him off in the morning and I went to work, hoping that maybe in this case, the fourth time would be a charm.

    And so far, it has.

    So, while I started my 2017 fearful I would lose my son to the national addiction crisis, I’m ending my 2017 watching him fully embrace his recovery. He’s got a job he likes, he’s moved back home this month, and on Christmas eve he picked up his six-month chip. It was the best Christmas gift ever.

    While in the process of getting my son into recovery, I started my own recovery. Nothing that we had to do was easy, but I put my trust in an amazing therapist who had been in this same position before. I took her advice as my only option, the only way out, and let myself learn some valuable lessons in the meantime.

    I learned this year that it’s ok to say no. It’s ok to not do what you may feel obligated to do. It doesn’t make you a bad person to step back from others, and take care of yourself for a little bit. Or for a long bit. I also let it sink in that where I was with my son, where he was in his own life, was not my fault. We didn’t get here because I was a bad mom. My son has grown up being the center of my world, and he is loved. And he knows, hopefully more so now, how much he is loved. Addiction doesn’t discriminate.

    My catchphrase for 2017 became ‘Boundaries!’ and I shared that lesson with anyone who would listen. To have those boundaries in your life – what you will do, what you won’t do, and a clear idea of both – is so much easier said than done. Trust me, none of this was easy. There were a lot of tears. There was a lot of anger, a lot of guilt, and after all of that some more tears.

    There was also a lot of reflection in 2017, and in the end, I was able to find a piece of myself I didn’t know existed. A strength that I was not convinced I had until I was challenged to find it. It doesn’t just make for good Pinterest quotes. It really is amazing what you can do once you realize how strong you really are. It’s something I plan on exploring more as we move into 2018.

    And my New Year wish for all of you in 2018 is the same thing. I wish all of you the opportunity to explore your inner strength. Explore setting boundaries for yourself that give you the happiest version of your life you can have. I wish you the strength to conquer any pesky demons, and I wish you the confidence to take on any new challenge that may come your way. Find out just how strong you can be in 2018.  <3

  • My Words

    Crazy Cat Lady; The Queen and Her People

    After our abusive roommate moved out my son didn’t wait long to ask for another cat. An August evening in 2003 I gave in, and we went to the local Humane Society instead of karate class to pick out a new cat. Being a shelter there were dozens of cats and kittens for us to look at but Alexandre zeroed in on three in particular, and I knew we were in trouble. Again. 

    His choices were split between a tiny, black and white tuxedo kitten in a cage by herself, and two sickly looking brothers with goopy eyes. The brothers were ruled out because I was not willing to take home two long haired kittens and Alexandre was not willing to separate brothers. That left us with the tiny tuxedo. 

    The tiny tuxedo was being handled by another girl and was quickly returned for biting, so Alexandre scooped her up. We took her into one of the socializing rooms and she immediately tried to escape. He managed to wrangle her for a few minutes but you wouldn’t have described her as cuddly. I pointed out that some of the other kittens were more friendly, but his mind was made up.

    Sasha the night we brought her home. The flash made her cross-eyed!

    “If we don’t take her no one else will, mom.” and I knew he was probably right. She was a deamon. 

    He named her Sasha and for the next several years she made her rule of our house known. She declared my bed hers, the couch hers, and demanded to drink water from her own cup. We brought in dogs – first a rowdy Jack Russell, then a rough-and-tumble Schnauzer, and last a Chihuahua/Italian Greyhound mix. Sasha maintained her alpha status, and her early years were her mean teen years. 

    Sasha letting Annie know she had to sleep somewhere else.

      Then she turned 10 and we moved to a new house. I’m not sure what changed in her but she stopped biting my ankles in the dark and started hanging out with her humans. She begs for cuddles and she begs for people food – especially if it’s salty or carbs. She loves garlic bread, licking green olives, and has gotten pushy enough she’ll grab my hand, or my plate, if I’m not sharing fast enough. But she’s a lot more loving while she does it.

    Sasha enjoying some green olives.

    Sasha is still the Queen, and she hasn’t let the dogs forget their place, but she’s much closer to those cuddly kittens I tried to talk my son into bringing home in 2003. I can’t say she is as good of a cat as Sebastian was. He was the King of Cats. But Sasha has taken her place in my heart.

    The Queen in ‘her’ bed.
    Sasha letting Annie know it is her ball now.
    Sasha woke me up before sunrise and wouldn’t let me go back to sleep until I put a cup of water in the tub for her highness.
  • My Words

    Crazy Cat Lady; The Roommate

    The story of my second cat starts, of all places, at an all-night scrapbooking party in the fall of 2002. Me, my cousin, Hayley, and two friends, Piper and Mary, signed up for the girls night at a local hotel. The event offered dinner, all night access to a banquet room, and some free scrapbooking supplies. Our group also smuggled in some liquor. Except for Hayley, who was not only underage for drinking, but also hopped up on cold meds already. 
    We were having a good time, even though we weren’t the most popular table, but that’s another story. A few hours in, Hayley decided she needed to go to the 24 hr grocery store nearby for more cold medicine. Having drank enough to spell the word ‘lion’ wrong on one of my pages, I decided she shouldn’t go shopping alone in the middle of the night, so I went with her. 
    In the parking lot there was a cat that I had been seeing around for the past few weeks. I’d tried to approach him before but he was skiddish and took off each time. Tonight was cold and I was worried about the poor little thing being outside on his own. ‘If he’ll let me close to him, I’m going to take him home,’ I told Hayley.
    It might have been the cold, or maybe he recognized me from my previous attempts, but this time he didn’t just let me close, he let me pick him up. So, drunk me, and my cousin with the head cold, wandered through the grocery store in the middle of the night carrying this cat. She got more meds, I picked up some cat supplies, and we made our way to my empty apartment that was convienently halfway between the store and the scrapbook hotel. I flipped on the lights and put my new furrbaby down. That’s when Hayley panicked.
    “Oh my hell. I think you just brought home a bobcat.”
    Drunk me scoffed at Hayley’s overreaction, but I would later decide there was probably some merrit to her concern. The cat – named Sensei by my son – was massive. Not fat or fluffy like Sebastian had been. Sensei was, honestly, baby bobcat huge. I measured his length for fun, and nose to tail was almost 2.5 feet. The top of his head came to my knee when standing. He was big and he was mean.
    Sensei immediately made his ownership of the apartment known. He did what he wanted, where he wanted, when he wanted, and hitting me with surprise attacks quickly became his favorite past time. My son was afraid of him but protective. Any male adult that entered the apartment was a target of attacks that often resulted in blood loss. The attacked included my Grandpa Bob, and the life insurance salesman that came by with my uncle and left with a little less flesh on his arm. 
    Despite his size, Sensei was a true ninja. He easily vanished in our small apartment, making his presence known when he decided the time was right to attack. He would hide out on the top of my fridge and smack you in the head as you walked by. Other days he would push in the kickboards in my kitchen and get into the walls, my neighbors walls, and wait hours before grabbing my ankles while I tried to cook.
    His favorite sneak attack technique was the sleep attack. I would go to bed and wake up, in the dark, with 20 pounds of furr and claws and teeth. After going to work with my second blackeye, I started sleeping with a spray bottle, and friends started referring to my cat as my abusive roommate.
    He kept me on my toes, but not once went after my son. On some nights he’d get up on the couch and cuddle like he was a real house cat and not a wild beast. Other nights he’d spend the whole evening at the sliding glass door, growling at the dark, and attacking things I could never see through the glass. 
    The most terrifying night with Sensei was his most memorible show of dominance in our strange relationship before he left us. He’d been particularly hostile and had kept me corralled for most of the night on the couch. I turned off the TV and started the slow, guarded walk to my bedroom at the end of the hall, anticipating the chase. 
    His size did not hinder the normal cat-stealth abilities, so he had the complete element of surprise as he darted for me, ran UP THE WALL past me, and came to a stop in the doorway of the master bedroom. His tail was fluffed out and whipping side to side, and his tufted ears were back. His intention was clear as a bell. I walked backwards, slowly, and spent the night on the couch, leaving the master bedroom to my terrible roommate. 
    Not long after that moment Sensei vanished. We waited some time to see if he was going to come back, and then adopted the shelter kitten we still have. Below are the only pictures I have of Sensei, because our time together happened before the days of camera phones. I wish I could find one of his yellow eyes, and the tufted bobcat ears.  Having had such a larger than life relationship with him made it clear he was perfect for a work of fiction. Sensei was renamed Freddy and now lives with the detective in my first novel. 

    Sensei guarding his territory.
    Sensei with his fighting tail.
    Sensei always ignored the fact that he had a perfectly fine water dish by his food dish.
  • My Words

    Crazy Cat Lady; The Early Years.

    When I was sixteen a ferrel cat that stalked around my grandparents neighborhood had a litter of kittens in their wood shed. Momma Cat was a grey short hair with bright yellow eyes, a broken tail that turned at an angle, and a hot temper. 
    I asked my parents if I could have one of the kittens when they got old enough. I was 16, working a part time job, and promised I would take care of all of the kitten’s s vet bills and needs.  My dad, never a cat fan, said nine magic words and unknowingly set a challenge.
         “If you can catch one, you can have one.” 
    There were three babies; an all black fluff ball, a grey and white fluff ball that was bigger than his siblings, and a tan and brown Siemese looking kitten who stayed closest to mom. The Siemese kitten, I’d started calling Hershey, was the one I wanted most.
    I recruited two friends, Piper and Lori, and headed to my grandparents house one evening, fueled by teen-age determination, and about $5 in canned cat food from the nearest 7/11. The three of us had underestimated how hungry momma cat would be. She inhaled the cat food before her kittens even came out of hiding, leaving us with no distractions. Back to 7/11 we went. 
    The second round of food brought all three kittens out of hiding, and kept mom occupied. It became obvious my kitten wasn’t going to be decided necessarily by which one I wanted. Ferral cats are sketchy, kitten claws are deadly, and food bribes only went so far. I was going to have to go home with the one spending the least amount of time trying to claw through flesh.
    The grey and white long-haired kitten was the only one who allowed us to touch him. Every attempt to grab the one I’d been calling Hersey resulted in hisses from kitten and momma, and a few attacks. Taking the hint, I picked up the willing kitten and we made a run for it.
    We took off in my car and reality sank in. I had a cat. I had to take him home, where no one was expecting a kitten besides me. We took him to a grocery store to buy some supplies, and stretched the drive out for two hours while I worked up the nerve to go home.
    I walked in the door and up the stairs, passed our Schnauzer/Yorkie mix frantically trying to figure out what I had in my hands. Bravely, I headed back to my parents bedroom ready to defend myself and the fluff ball it would take me three days to name. 

    “What do you have?” my dad asked, concerned and irritated. 
    “My cat,” I answered. “You said I just had to catch it.”

    Sebastián, about one year.
    Sebastián, 2yrs, not phased at all at a photo studio in the mall a friend worked at.
  • My Words

    Crazy Cat Lady; Part One

    Last night was Book Club night. Part of our conversation was about the book we’d read, part of it was about other topics. One other topic was a recently adopted one-eyed cat. This conversation moved on to the three cats I’ve owned and the circumstances that brought each of them into my life.
    I realized that each of my crazy cats has a story that deserves to be told, so I will be posting them here. Starting tomorrow you can come back and start with cat number one – Sebastian – a ferral grey Main Coon kitten who won my heart and has the distinction of being the first and only cat my dad ever liked. After Sebastian there was Sensei, arguably, possibly the offspring of a bobcat, and Sasha, the fiesty Tuxedo currently running our house. 

    Sasha letting me know she doesn’t have to listen to me.
  • My Words

    His Journey Started With a Sunrise

    “You should come take a picture of the sunrise.”
    It was 7:15 on a Monday morning I didn’t actually need to be up for. President’s Day. My office was closed for the holiday, and in an idyllic world I’d be sleeping in, gearing up to get some writing done, or spending a relaxed family day. But “idyllic” wasn’t our world and hadn’t been for awhile.
    The weekend had started well and ended rough. We’d been here before. More than I’d like to think about over the last nine months. We’d done a family dinner Saturday to celebrate my little brother’s birthday. We’d had a family dinner with just us and our three kids Sunday and he’d sat down to eat, he’d joined conversations, he’d laughed. Then he disappeared. He relapsed. We started over.
    Something had to give. I had to stop giving in. He had to decide what he wanted. He didn’t need to be saved, he needed to save himself and decide he was going to do so. We’d cried, we’d screamed, we’d pleaded and begged and bribed for months. He needed to make the choice on his own.
    He didn’t make his final choice that Monday. He talked about fixing it but he wasn’t really there yet. By Thursday he was gone again. He pushed it and made us do what we never wanted to do. We didn’t want to have to make that choice but we had to stop the chaos. My heart couldn’t break anymore. I needed to get back to a different kind of normal. We had to make him choose to get help or leave. He left that night.
    Then another Monday came, another day at home for me. This time not for a holiday but for a sick day, recovering from a chest cold. Exhaustion. The texts started first – He wanted to get better. He wanted to come home – and my heart hurt all over again. The phone rang and my husband answered. Tears. He wanted to get help. He wanted to come home. He let my dad bring him to us, knowing what the outcome would be. Coming home only meant one thing.
    He packed a bag, he cried, but he didn’t say no. When we got him to the door of the place I hope will save him he didn’t beg to leave. It was different this time. This time he knew he needed to stay. He knew he needed to be somewhere safer than home. And it took him some time to admit it, but I think he knew it on that first Monday morning, watching that sunrise.
    “You should take the picture with me in it.” he’d said through quiet tears over his shoulder. I stood, barefoot, on the winter morning concrete, and snapped the shot he’d requested. He never asked to see it. His mind was elsewhere during that sunrise.

    Xandre’s Sunrise

  • My Words

    Writing Challenge – What's the Song?

    So, the first challenge I’m starting with is number 20 on the list. We’re going to see what’s on my playlist. That’s the challenge. Hit shuffle 3 times on my playlist and see what comes up and what the songs bring to mind.
    Here we go…Shuffle one…
    About Today by The National. I love this song. That’s the first thought that comes to mind. In fact I might say that out loud if it comes on when I’m with other people. I really do love it. It’s painful and vulnerable, and about a day I think every one of us has had.

    ‘You just walked away, and I just watched you, what could I say…How close am I to losing you’

    It’s a song that hurts my heart a little every time I hear it. The lyrics and the vocals are so perfect and raw. You feel like Matt Berninger is letting you in on a moment he’s living right then. It never gets skipped on the play list.
    And now for shuffle two…
    Audience of One by Cold War Kids. Awe, this is Xandre’s song. I came to know the Cold War Kids through Alexandre so a lot of their stuff makes me think of him in a way. But this one always makes me think of my oldest. It just brings on the feel of a free spirit finding happiness through their own journey. It’s not one that seems to come up on my play list often but it is one that makes me smile.
    And the last one is…
    Bananarama! Cruel Summer! Oh, the 80’s. All this one makes me think of is being a preteen. Bananarama, The Bangles, Cindy Lauper – I thought those chicks were sooooo cool. And I’m pretty sure they opened the door for Jem and the Holograms. Oh how I wanted pink and purple punk hair. I can say this is a fun one to sing in the car. When I’m alone.
    Well, there you have it. My playlist on shuffle.

  • My Words

    The Witch of November

    As titled, this is my big blog of stuff, which means I can add any little random bits I wish. And today’s post is definitely random. By night I am a wannabe fiction writer but, by day, I work in the world of international container shipping. It’s an industry I’ve been in for over 14 years now. Being in this industry has definitely given me a brighter insight to how global a community we live in. It’s also given me a greater appreciation for all the bobbles and do-dads that end up on our store shelves. Early on in my career we had a vessel hit by a particularly vicious storm – something not too uncommon in the shipping world. Pictures that came back to us showed giant 40′ containers smashed in at the center to nothing. Some containers were damaged, some were destroyed, and some were washed right overboard. It was losses in the thousands of thousands. But the entire crew made it to port.
    Where is she going with this, you might be asking yourself. Well, being in the industry has made me more aware of the difficulties of international shipping. But it was a song from my childhood that has always stood as the most haunting reminder of the dangers of being on the water. Of course I’m talking about The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot. On the right day the song will make me cry, and the haunting retelling of the story is one that stays in your head for days after you hear it. Or is that just me? Either way, I didn’t realize until today that the fateful night was only 40 years ago today, only a few months before I was born. I humbly admit I put this wreck near the time of the Titanic, or even before. In reality it sunk November 10, 1975. The wreckage was found May 20, 1976, 535 feet below the surface, and in August of that year Gordon Lightfoot released his song.
    I’ve never dealt with containers on the great lakes but reading up on what they face when winter rolls in was more than I originally imagined. In 300 years of shipping on the great lakes there have been 10,000 shipwrecks with 30,000 crewmen lost. And that’s just our great lakes area. The Edmond Fitzgerald is still the largest vessel lost on the lakes. To this day – although it’s easy to assume that weather played a major factor in the sinking of “The Fitz” – the exact cause is unknown. The vessel dropped off radar and broke up before they could even send a distress signal. All after the other vessel on the lake that night, the Arthur M. Anderson, had made radio contact with the captain who confirmed they were alright and holding their own against the storm.
    The captain of the Anderson bravely but hesitantly went back into the storm they were trying to escape from to search for, if not survivors, at least debris that would confirm the Fitzgerald had been lost. The downing of the vessel happened so quick that there was very little signs remaining on the water when he was able to make it back to the last known location of the missing ship. The storm was fierce enough to take the monster vessel down completely, and in no time. It’s probably a miracle that both vessels weren’t lost once he returned to look for his missing sea-mates. I listened to the recording here between the captain of the Anderson and the coast guard tonight for the first time. It’s heartbreaking but eerily fascinating to watch the video attached.


  • My Words

    A Letter to a Friend

    Dear Lori –
    It’s been almost 14 years since you left us now, and I can hardly believe it’s been that long. You would have been 39 today. Good god, we’re old! Little things have come up as this day approached, making it pretty clear that it was time to get over the emotions writing this letter creates, and get it out there.
    Days and days and days will go by and I’ll not think about the hurt that losing you caused. Then things come back and bring the sadness I still have for everything we didn’t get to do in your short time. Every time I see a Facebook post about the Golden Girls a little part of me remembers that we won’t get that. It was supposed to be the 3 of us, and old age is never going to be the same with just Blanche and Dorothy. And, by the way, you would have loved Facebook, Lor! Anonymous stalking from the comfort of your own home, no gas money required!
    It amazes me sometimes how much it still hurts. I will think that it’s gotten easier, that the hole in my life is a little bit smaller. Then a few weeks ago, going through boxes, I found an almost-empty journal and I’m reminded all over again how wrong I am to think that. I hadn’t even remembered the journal until I opened the first page and saw my crazy handwriting and a Valentine’s Day note to you, hoping you would find things to fill the journal with, dated 1999. The rest of the pages remained blank. Two years later I brought that journal home after we’d all sat in your room trying to comprehend the fact that, as of that day, you were gone. That little spiral notebook, with the 1990’s black and white photo of a little boy presenting a rose to a little girl, had me in tears in seconds. That’s when I realized that it isn’t any easier at all. I’ve just gotten better at moving the hurt to the side on most days.
    The hardest part is that, in a way I can’t explain, I knew I was going to lose you. It happened after we’d spent a day together spending money neither of us really had. We were shopping for dress clothes, so there had to have been new jobs involved. I can’t place it correctly in our time line though. I know it was before your surgery, maybe before the seizure episode? Maybe you were just starting at the library? I know for sure I had Alexandre. It ended up being a hard day with tears.
    You were carrying the weight of your world on your shoulders and we talked about getting out, renting an apartment together. You were going to help me with Alexandre, and we were going to make it work on our own. We both knew we couldn’t really do it but it cheered us up a bit to dream. Through that day together I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to do these girl’s days with you for very long. When I got home I told my mom we’d lose you before we were 30. I don’t know what made me say it but I hate that I was right. And I hate that I didn’t try to cram more of those days in than what we got.
    It wasn’t enough, but we did get to cram some good days in. I can’t drive past the collection of orange flags at the crosswalks downtown without thinking of the night you convinced people you were their crossing guard after our dinner at the Olive Garden. I stood on the sidewalk, stone-faced as I could, while you ushered people back and forth, gushing with over-the-top Lori Charm. I think you made three trips. And of course, our night at the bar, your first night at a bar, will be with me forever. We laughed so hard on the way home I thought I was going to pee after you screamed “I think I have a hicky!”. It would have made a perfect entry in that journal.
    I can’t dwell on all that we missed together, or all that you missed out on for your own. I would drown in it if I did. But on days like today I can be a little sad. Sad that you didn’t get to find The One, or meet My One. Sad that you didn’t get to be a mom. Sad that you didn’t get to find yourself in our 20’s, or share more stories of the crazy lady at the library. “Bring me a block of cheese!” And sad that you’re not here to go out with tonight to lament the end of our 30’s, maybe over a cotton candy martini and some cheese sticks. And for all of those reasons, tonight I will be sad.
    I love you Pingon, and I miss you every day.
    Your Little Mouse Friend