Mean Grandma

One of my childhood memories, that stands out to me most, is a visit to my grandparents’  home when I was probably somewhere between four and six years old. We were there for Thanksgiving, I believe, so it would have been fall and the sun would have been setting early so we arrived after dark.  I remember taking a paper bag full of toys out of the car and attempting to walk into the house with it only to be stopped short by my grandma who was blocking the entrance to the house with her body. We called her Grandma but you’d think she would have insisted on being called Grandmother. She was that kind of stern. She promptly told me that there was no way I was bringing those toys into her home and informed me that we would actually be sleeping in the barn. Ouch.

Sleeping in the barn isn’t as terrible as it sounds. Or maybe it was. We weren’t sleeping on hay or anything. It’s a huge barn with a finished floor and normal beds but open to the natural barn ceiling where bats flew back and forth all night. At this stage in my life, I mostly played with one of my older brothers so I was of the mindset that I was much tougher than I actually was (you have to be if you want to hang with older brothers). So I convinced myself that I was not afraid of the bats, or the dark. . . and that I was totally okay without my mom, who was sleeping in the main house with one of my sisters, still a baby at the time.

I wasn’t alone. I had four of my siblings with me. But more than the bats, the thing that haunted me the most was how unkind my grandma seemed to be, even to me, a little kid. I thought grandmas were supposed to LOVE little kids. My best friend had the perfect grandma. She was short and stocky which made her an excellent hugger. She was a great cook and always cooked huge breakfasts with tons of choices. She smiled a lot and made you feel welcome. She even sent my best friend money in a card for her birthday! How come I couldn’t have gotten a grandma like THAT?!

My grandma was standoffish and private. She seemed to speak only directly to my mom. If she did speak to us, it was to enlist us to help with chores. That was about the extent of our interaction. Even though we only lived a couple hours away, we didn’t visit very often and, when we did, I made it a point to spend most of my time outdoors where I wouldn’t have to encounter her. I spent my entire childhood calling my grandma “Mean Grandma” to my friends. It seems that mean grandmas are indeed pretty rare as I have yet to meet anyone who shared this experience.

As an adult, looking back, I see that my grandma is just kind of reserved and not necessarily a great communicator with children or adults. And that’s totally okay. Everyone communicates differently and not everyone is in tune with the needs of children.

A few years ago, my grandma had a stroke and lost most of the mobility on her left side. My parents take care of her in her home so that she doesn’t have to stay in a facility with strangers. Although the few times she has had to stay when recovering from an injury, the people that take care of her in the facility are really great, loving people. I’m not convinced it would be that terrible but she misses home when she’s there. The home she lives in is the home she spent most of her growing-up years in. It’s also the home she took care of her own mother in, until her mother’s death. It’s been in the family for over 70 years. She feels safe there. Which is extra important because she also has dementia. That feeling of security is vital for those living with dementia because so much of their world can seem out of place and confusing at times.

Just a few months ago, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She is going through treatments and doing well. She’s tired sometimes but her spirits are always high. The cancer did attack her bones in her hip area so, while the bone strengthening treatments are working and enabling her to walk without support, she is still not quite able to do everything she was able to do before. Which is why, and how, I have come to be the one that showers my grandma.

If you would have asked me even five years ago, I would not have been able to predict that showering my mean grandma would be on my to-do list.

Almost exactly four years ago, I was fortunate enough that the company I work for agreed to allow me to work from home. I was living in Austin, TX at the time, as I had followed my job there but, since I was now able to work from home, I was also able to move anywhere in the U.S. that I desired. I had been living in Austin for five years and felt I was missing out on time with my parents, now in their 60’s, so I decided to move about ten minutes away from where my parents (and grandma) live. When I first moved back, Grandma was a little more mobile than she is now so we were able to, not so easily, take her out to eat and on little adventures in the area, like to one of the local historical homes that they treat as a museum. I’m pretty sure my grandma actually KNEW the people that had lived there when it was still occupied. Through these adventures, I was able to connect with my grandma, not as who she had been, but who she was right now. While those who had been close to her most of their life felt they were losing her to dementia, I, on the other hand, was developing a relationship with her for the first time.

Over time though, of course, our bodies decline and Grandma, almost 88 years old now, is not as able as she was even four years ago so our adventures are now turned more toward watching old movies, coloring and reading books about Thomas Jefferson establishing the world (according to Grandma). Our newest adventure, of course, being shower time.

Shower time is not easy. Shower time involves lots of bending, scrubbing, lifting, sweating and splashing water on the wood floor (to both my parents’ and Grandma’s dismay – Maybe you shouldn’t put wood floors in a bathroom, just sayin’).

But there’s also something really special about shower time. It’s our quiet bonding time. We talk very little but communicate so much. It’s gentle and safe and, right now, it’s just ours.

No one jumps for joy when selected to be the one to give their elderly loved one a shower but experiences like this can often be great revealers of truth and I’ve found that I’m learning quite a bit. I’m learning about caring, selflessly, for another person. About helping that person feel supported and safe. About feeling closeness without words. About doing something for someone else with absolutely no expectation of receiving some kind of award or acknowledgement. My grandma does acknowledge me though. She simply looks me in the eyes and whispers, “thank you,” when it’s just me and her. It brings tears to my eyes every time. I can see what this means to her.

One of the best things I’ve learned through spending this time with my grandma, I learned through repetition. I started noticing that she was calling me her “little baby granddaughter” to all of the hospital staff during her appointments. At first I didn’t think much of it. She’s old, she has dementia, this is probably just something she says. Besides, I have two sisters. They are also her little baby granddaughters, surely. But then eventually she expanded on it. She went on to tell me about the first time my mom brought me to visit after I was born. How my great grandma, her mother, had made a special dress for me. She even described the dress. She described how excited she was to meet me and how tiny I was. So when she was describing me to the hospital staff, she was describing me as a literal baby. The baby she remembers meeting, vividly it seems, for the first time. Then it hit me, that I am the eldest granddaughter and what a treat that must have been for her and her mother, as it was for my own parents. This is not something she is saying without meaning. This is a special moment in her life that she is looking back on and cherishing. She’s cherishing ME. And she’s been cherishing me since that day, back in 1981, when we first met.

What the Woodpecker Knows

The Woodpecker knows his role, his purpose, his talents

He goes about his day, without hesitation, drilling his way into trees, finding his dinner

He never doubts what his beak is designed for

He doesn’t doubt any of the actions he takes; flying, drilling, drumming on trees

He doesn’t think, he just does

He never worries if other birds or animals are judging his methods or if he’s making too much noise

He never once questions the outcome of his actions

He knows instinctively that his actions will result in what he intends because the actions are ingrained in him as truth, they are who he is

Trees and grass don’t think, they just grow

They do what they are designed to do

They exist in their truth

Nature’s intuition?

We must take cues from nature

She is here to remind and instruct

Do what you are intended to do

Share the gifts you have been entrusted with

The people who are destined to benefit from your gifts and experiences depend on you to know what the Woodpecker knows

To know that you can do no wrong, but that you can do SO MUCH GOOD, when you are doing what you are designed to do

Be who you are. Exist in your truth.

How to be a Cat Caregiver

Yes, cat caregiver is a real term. I recently ran across this term while researching some cat rescue related content and realized that I am a cat caregiver and, even better, a cat caregiver with a free-roaming cat colony. Take that, cat ladies!

According to some of the articles I’ve read on the subject, being a cat caregiver includes feeding, making sure they have access to fresh water, getting the cats spayed/neutered, attending to sick or injured cats as necessary, etc. However, there are a few things I have found to also be true of a cat caregiver, especially if you are maintaining a free-roaming cat colony.

In addition to the above, the following are my tips and tricks for maintaining a successful cat colony;

  1. Just like with indoor cats, let the cat come to you on his own terms. He will either eventually warm up to you, having built trust with you (stray), or he’ll continue to make his rounds through your yard, glaring at you as he walks by (feral). Either way, he’ll be eating the food you left out for him. Don’t take it personally.
  2. Spend as much time giving your outdoor kitties affection as you can. Anyone who doesn’t know better will tell you that cats are just here for the food and that is partially right but, when they are getting fed regularly, are feeling good and cared for, their needs turn more to affection. So much so that they will bypass food you’ve left out for them in search of some good ol’ TLC. Even though outside kitties generally have multiple food resources, it’s not often that they also have friendships with those sources. So, make the time, let them know they are loved. It keeps them friendly with you and with other cats in the colony. The hope being that, eventually, you can find a good home for the ones that are now used to regular human interaction.
  3. Partner with your local SPCA or veterinary clinic. Especially in areas where feral and stray cats are rampant, there are generally spay/neuter programs in place for either free or discounted services and vaccines. A Havahart (have-a-heart) trap is great to have around for those untouchable feral kitties or any random male that shows up looking for a female in season. . . Ooooor if a possum decides to move into your garage after finding kitty food there. It happens.
  4. Reflective cat collars with bells for the cats that are friendly with you/allow you to touch them. Not only does it make them more visible to drivers at night, the bell helps alert birds and bats when they are being hunted so they have a better chance of survival. The bell is also a friendly alert when your kitties are nearby and in need of your attention.
  5. Build a raccoon-proof raised, freestanding house or covered platform for your colony (that they may or may not use). Wrap the bottom of the platform with metal sheeting, which raccoons are unable to grab hold of. Also, be sure to place the structure in an area away from buildings or trees that raccoons could then drop down or crawl over from. Raccoons can climb but they can’t jump so this will keep them from being able to eat all the cat food in one sitting while still giving your kitties easy jumping access to the platform. This is especially handy if you leave town for a few days at a time and don’t want to leave your colony without a food and water resource.
  6. Have a backup caregiver. While the above mentioned platform is an awesome resource, it is no replacement for an actual human overseeing the care of your colony. The platform can make your backup caregiver’s life a little easier but you should always have someone checking up on your colony while you are gone.
  7. Give up on your patio or outside furniture being your own. If there are cushions to sit on, they will be sat upon by your outside kitties. All day. Every day. If possible, buy or create safe, warm spaces for your kitties to snuggle up, especially if you live in an area that freezes over night. Cat bed liners with the heat reflective material inside that reflect the body’s own warmth back to it are a nice, inexpensive option that the cats seem to really appreciate on cold nights.
  8. Create space. Even though kitties of a single colony are friendly enough with each other and get along, they are still instinctually contending for resources. That means creating perceived separation, especially when there are 5 or more cats, to keep the peace. Have several feeding stations around your property where the kitties can come and go with little to no interaction with other cats of the colony, if they prefer. This includes watering stations and bedding areas as well.
  9. Finally, understand that, as much as you try and as much as it may feel like it sometimes, the lives of your free-range kitties are not entirely within your control and protection. You are here as a guardian and caretaker but you won’t be able to protect them from everything, especially cars, vicious dogs and wild animals. Do your best, do what you can, but never blame yourself for something that is ultimately beyond your control. Control is an illusion in all aspects of life and being a cat caregiver of a free-roaming cat colony is no different. That being said, be sure that your local non-emergency and emergency animal control phone numbers are programmed into your phone or kept somewhere handy, just in case.

Obviously, a cat colony is not for everyone as it is a commitment. The cats you choose to care for depend on you. If a colony of free-roaming kitties happens to find you and adopt you as their caregiver, my hope is that you’ll find my advice helpful and that you will be encouraged to assist in any way you can. I believe you will find it quite satisfying and your neighborhood stray and feral kitties will thank you for it, each in their own way.

For  more resources on becoming a cat caregiver, please check out Feral Cat FOCUS of WNY They have a ton of great information on caring for your local stray and feral kitties.

If there are any other cat caregivers out there, let me know in the comments, what would you add to this list?

I’m a terrible vegan

I’ve been following a plant-based – alright alright – VEGAN, diet for approximately 6 weeks now. There’s, understandably, quite a bit of a learning curve and I find myself focusing primarily on what and what not to eat. There are a number of reasons to switch to a vegan diet and so many of those reasons come from personal convictions about our place in the world and how we choose to coexist with other living beings, both human and those of other species, i.e. global warming, animal rights, the very basic right to life, etc.

For myself, the most compelling reason involves living in such a way that allows me to live as in tune with my true self as possible. That’s where peace and freedom exist, therefore, that’s where I want to exist as often as I can.

Today, I purchased a new pair of sandals and then wore them around the rest of the day while running errands. While I was waiting in line at one point, it dawned on me that the top part of my sandal might actually be leather. In disbelief at my, possibly, obvious oversight, I pulled out my amazingly small computer (a.k.a. my phone) and started doing some research. To my utter disappointment, my suspicion was confirmed; the belly of an unfortunate animal was unnecessarily used in the making of my sandal strap. A synthetic material would have been just as strong, just as comfortable, just as reliable and without the pain and suffering of another. And this after going out of my way to find a coffee shop that offered a mocha that didn’t contain dairy. Words of defeat escaped my mouth, “I’m a terrible vegan.”

I then started thinking back on other purchases I had made throughout the day. What else had I totally blown it on? I had picked up my first guitar not long before. It seemed safe enough but, after further inspection, I discovered an inlay of abalone – another blow to life and my conscience.

I am a terrible vegan.

I am an imperfect person. . . as we all are.

Like probably almost everyone else on the planet, except maybe the sociopaths, I’ve spent much of my life believing that perfection does exist . . . just not for me. It existed for others who were smarter, more talented, more in tune with existence (and themselves) and better looking than I am. Everyone else seemed to have their shit together but me.

I’ve finally, and with much relief, come to the realization that EVERYONE believes they lack where others thrive but, in reality, none of us have it exactly right and none of us ever will and that’s perfectly alright. You might even say, perfectly imperfect (cheesy but true!).

So, yes, I’m an imperfect person for always and a terrible vegan for right now but part of growing as a person is making mistakes and learning from them. These things stick with you and help you make better decisions going forward. Just because I messed up today, doesn’t mean I’ll keep messing up in the same way for the rest of my life. I will continue to screw things up, there’s no doubt about that, but I will not let a mistake define me. I’ve done that for far too much of my life.

Maybe you look back on your life and wonder how it could have turned out differently. Maybe there are regrets that you live with every day; you dated/married the wrong person, you cheated on your spouse, you didn’t go to college when others did, you didn’t try for the job because you thought you weren’t qualified. Maybe you had children too young or not at all even though having children was something you always imagined for yourself. Maybe you’ve let your health go and are struggling to regain it. Whatever it may be, every passing moment is a chance to turn it all around. So, seize the day, as they say! Grow from mistakes and experiences but don’t let them define you. The only moment that exists is the one you’re in right now. Choose to forgive yourself and start fresh. Choose to embrace the reality of imperfection rather than be held captive by the debilitating  notion that perfection exists for others but not for yourself. We are all the other to someone. Choose to live in the present moment rather than one that can not be reclaimed or edited. Choose love for yourself. Choose life.

 

 

Maya Angelou was a strip-tease dancer?!

Sweet, pious, beautifully spoken, Mother Teresa-meets-Martin Luther King Jr, “Touched by an Angel” poet Maya Angelou?!

Indeed, Maya Angelou spent a brief four month stint as a strip-tease dancer at the Bonne Nuit Dance Club in San Francisco when her marriage had ended and she was looking for work to support herself and her son. I stumbled upon this little nugget while reading what is said to be considered Maya Angelou’s most deeply personal memoir, Mom & Me & Mom, in which she describes her relationship with her mother and how it shaped the woman she became. While she calls it strip-tease dancing, and although she was scantily clad, Maya never actually took her clothes off on stage for money. In her memoir, Maya mentions how she didn’t want to be known as a strip-tease dancer. She had studied dance most of her life, at that point, and was liberated by it. When she was dancing she felt as if her body “had a reason to be.” But the “prospect of three hundred dollars per week was tantalizing.” She calls her mother and explains her dilemma. To my surprise, and possibly to Maya’s, her mother encourages her to apply for the position. Together, they create a revealing but theatrical costume and Maya hires a drummer to play for her while she dances. Maya quickly becomes the most popular and most sought after dancer in the club with patrons even “turn[ing] their backs to the strip dancers.” She gains regular visitors who come to the club to watch her dance and her performances are even written about by several popular San Francisco columnists who praise her dance skills and  business acumen. A group of her regulars become her future employers, hiring her to star as a calypso singer at their club, the Purple Onion. She goes from making $300 a week to making $750 a week. Her mother tells her, “Now you will see some of the world and you will show the world what you are working with.” This opens up other opportunities to sing as a way to support herself which opens up opportunities to travel and see the world.

I’ve had a specific vision of Miss Angelou, a name she kept because she “liked the sound of it” (from the very marriage whose end drove her to become a strip-tease dancer), for most of my life. I’ve come to realize that my vision of Miss Angelou was skewed yet she is now no less angelic in my eyes. On the contrary, learning more about who she was, where she came from and what she experienced in her life and adding that to what I had known of her in her later years just fills me with even more respect and adoration for the woman. She never apologizes for being human. She shuns this idea of perfection that we all hopelessly cling too and speaks only of love, understanding and acceptance. She does not define herself by her experiences but rather allows relationships to mold her. She embraces the imperfections in herself and, by doing so, gives us hope that we can do the same for ourselves. My vision of Maya Angelou never even came close to capturing what a badass she truly was.

There’s a valuable lesson in Maya’s provocative yet short-lived strip-tease dancing career. I believe Maya’s mother,  Vivian Baxter, said it best; “You are going far in this world, baby, because you dare to risk everything.”

Nicolas Cage is a Coppola?!

That’s right folks, Nic Cage is a Coppola. If you’re like a lot of people I’ve talked to, you’ve probably always had a love/unimpressed relationship with Cage’s acting. He’s very hit or miss for me but, although he’s not in any of my favorite movies, he is in quite a few movies that I do enjoy, including his acting in them. Some of those movies include Adaptation., Joe, The Wicker Man, Matchstick Men and, most recently, Moonstruck, which was unexpectedly deep. Of course, I did also enjoy Cage in Con Air, The Rock and Face/Off but that was before I had developed a discerning nature in regard to movies – I mean, I was still in high school. You can’t expect too much from teenager me. I still enjoy those movies on a nostalgic level but, you have to admit, Cage’s acting in those movies is effing terrible.I know a lot of you are probably thinking “What about Leaving Las Vegas?!” Well, I haven’t watched it yet but it is on my list! Don’t worry, I’ll get there eventually.

When it comes to art, you develop a type of trust with the artists. Actors and actresses who consistently choose interesting, endearing, believable, difficult movies and roles for themselves are the ones that build trust with you over time and the ones whom you don’t hesitate to go to the theatre for when they’ve come out with a new project. I believe it was Benicio del Toro that said when you choose a role, you are choosing the movie too so you can’t always pick a role you want to play and expect the movie to be amazing even if the character is. Nic Cage just hasn’t maintained that trust with the roles and movies he chooses so I tend to be wary of his art.

Back to my point, according to IMDB and Wikipedia, Nic Cage, born Nicolas Kim Coppola, changed his name early in his career to avoid the appearance of nepotism. Nicolas, or as his Moonstruck co-star Cher calls him, Nicky wanted to make his own path in the acting world. For those of you still asking yourself why this matters, let’s talk a little about Francis Ford Coppola, Nick’s uncle on his father’s side. Francis is an Academy Award winning screenplay writer and director. You may know him for movies like the Godfather Parts I, II and III, Apocalypse Now, The RainMaker and Patton. He’s part of what is considered the New Hollywood wave of filmmaking where the film vision was the director’s rather than that of the studios. Without the pioneers of this movement, we’d have a lot less of the movies that move us and a lot more Face/Off-type movies. Big Hollywood studios had their specific genres that they tended to gear their films toward and their main objective was sales rather than art. With the directors at the helm of their creative vision, rather than the studios, we started to hear more individualized voices coming from Hollywood in addition to the churning of the Hollywood movie machine which, I believe, a lot of us are learning to or have already been ignoring in search of movies that we see ourselves in. Movies that really touch us rather than just entertain us.

Also familiar to me, and maybe I did pay attention to her at first because of her name, is Sofia Coppola, Francis’ daughter. Sofia is known for her Academy Award winning screenplay for the comedy-drama Lost in Translation. Of course, there is also Jason Schwartzman, Sofia and Nic’s cousin, who is frequently involved in the beloved Wes Anderson’s films and is one of the stars in, one of my personal favorites, Steve Martin’s Shopgirl.

I totally agree that winning Academy Awards is not the definition of being a great artist and Nic himself is a Best Actor winner for Leaving Las Vegas. It can also be argued that not everything Nic’s relatives put out there is gold but the caliber of most of Cage’s movies, especially ones he’s known for in the ’90’s, are not quite up to par with a lot of the art being created by some of his family members so when I read that he was part of the Coppola family, I was a little – okay a lot – taken aback. I respect a variety of Nic’s role choices especially in more recent years and I have to give him props for intentionally striking out on his own to see what he was capable of. We can all learn a lesson from his choice to go after what he wanted in the face of uncertainty. That being said, I still won’t be watching more than half of the movies he’s made and I watch A LOT of movies.

“You’re very pretty but you’re shallow beyond belief.” – Dell, Comet (2014)

Comet (2014)

Rated R Sci-fi/drama

Writer and Director:  Sam Esmail
Cast: Justin Long, Emmy Rossum
Cinematographer: Eric Koretz
Music: Daniel Hart

We only get to watch a movie for the first time once. Comet is, for me, now one of those movies that, while I’m grateful for the experience of this “time-based art”, it’s an experience I wish I could recreate as a new experience every time I watch it.

Although characters not uniquely driven by their fears and desires, sometimes catching fleeting glimpses of happiness possibilities, Kimberly and Dell are honestly and refreshingly flawed – even equally so. So often we see the story and growth of just one primary character while Comet affords us the satisfaction of experiencing the growth of both primary characters.

We experience this growth against a, usually, subtly surreal backdrop that allows us to remove the constraints that we would normally impose on these two, and on our own perspective, as they move throughout their world. Their world is familiar but different enough to allow for freedom from assumptions. The landscape is breathtaking and even brought tears to my eyes in moments when it was suddenly thrust into the foreground as an integral part of our characters’ stories.

Many of the dialogue scenes were shot in such a way that made me feel like I was watching a stage play – as if I were sitting right on stage with the actors, intimately observing both their joy and their turmoil and even feeling as if, like the landscape, I were participating in it. It reminded me of a monologue; even though you are aware that there are many beside you, you feel as if that character were speaking directly to you, beckoning you to see yourself in them.

And that’s really the point, right? Art beckons to us the same way that love does; to see ourselves in the other and to love and accept the other the way that we love and accept ourselves or, for many, to love and accept ourselves the way we love and accept the other.

We see ourselves in the highs and lows of Dell and Kimberly’s struggle to find the balance within so that balance can also be felt without, with the other. We seek out and hold on to tiny moments of true connection with another and, hopefully, like in the case of Dell and Kimberly, observe  growth spurts within ourselves through that connection. Complacency and criticism come so easily and expectation, negative or positive, distorts the beauty of reality, displacing the peace that exists in the here and now. Choose now, not five minutes from now.

For my Netflix friends, Comet is streaming as of today.