Sunday, August 27, 2006

When bad things happen -- what do you do?

Living is suffering. That's pretty much the whole foundation of Buddhism. The way you get through that suffering is outlined in the rest of the tenets of that path, which are not much different ultimately than those in Christianity -- right speech, right mindfulness, right understanding, right livelihood, right effort, right action, right thought, right concentration. Following those precepts will bring you to the end of suffering, i.e, the lack of craving, of attachment.

Okay, so I get that, imperfectly. I even work on it.

But there are days when suffering just seems to be all around me. Certainly there is physical suffering from pain, or illness, or injury. I watched the effects of pain on my mother and it is not just a physical reality, but also one that compromises the mental abilities, even mitigated by meds. It is a suffering I fear because I've seen what it does. The physical pain I've felt in my lifetime has largely been endurable and I've always recovered fairly intact. Some physical suffering just does not go away.

There is mental suffering, being unfulfilled, frustrated, the going-nowhere-fast kind. We all suffer that, usually daily, and it can grow into a tremendously painful burden to carry. It also can lead to physical suffering, in that what you think can indeed affect health. Anyone who has ever been in a terrible job situation knows this one. The Katrina victims, the 9/11 survivors know it *again* as the media observes the respective anniversaries with endless stories of loss and despair.

And then there is emotional suffering. If you get your feelings hurt easily, you know emotional suffering. When you get angry or endure humiliation as a result of another's actions, that is emotional suffering. If you've endured the breakup of a strong relationship, you've suffered emotionally. It can be a result of physical suffering, or mental suffering, and all three can be intertwined to make endless days and nights of suffering.

When you are a parent and your child is injured/teased/bullied/ostracized, you suffer too, for them and with them, possibly remembering your own experiences. When your grown child faces job loss or financial difficulties, or is in a difficult relationship, you still suffer -- unlike their childhood when you could ride your white horse into the fray armed with a bandaid or a cookie or hug to heal the wounds, there's not much you can do but love them.

Watching a child or friend or colleague or spouse suffer because of their decisions and actions and the re-actions of someone who has some kind of power over them -- a boss, a significant other, a sibling -- is beyond difficult when you love them. I want my children to be happy, to find fulfillment in their lives, to have love and "enough" of everything. As they struggle to achieve that, they suffer, and so do I.

Watching my mother struggle with her physical limitations and mental distress was very hard on me -- I wanted so much to make it easier for her, to ease her suffering. And I know that I did all I could do. Despite the gratitude that I have for her peaceful death and end to suffering, I miss her presence in my life, her wit, her advice, her willingness to listen. I suffer from grief.

So what do you do to ease the suffering of another?

You know you can't fix it or make it go away -- it may not be yours to handle (and besides, isn't the very act of getting involved to that extent sometimes a denial of your OWN inability to handle some situation in your life?) But we give advice (that we probably wouldn't take), we bring hot soup or hot fudge sundaes, we call or write or e-mail with support. We cry with them (and for them). We pray.

And that's all we can do. "I am powerless over people, places and things."

I do not have to allow another's suffering to take over my life. I have a choice in how I react to adversity and difficulty. I can decide a course only for myself, not for anyone else (which, of course, doesn't stop me from making suggestions!)

There is a line in Neil Simon's play "Jake's Women," that I've never forgotten -- I once played Jake's psychiatrist, Edith. She listened to him agonize for years over his failing relationship with his wife (and sister and daughter and former girlfriends) because of his attachment to his long-dead wife. Dr. Edith finally proclaimed to him, in Brooklyn-accented tones, "We make our own destiny, Jake."

And we do. With each decision we make, we choose a path. How we react to our suffering caused by relationships or bosses or pain or death or hurt feelings or anything else is a CHOICE WE MAKE. If we don't like how we feel/live/work, only we have the power to make it different. My life -- your life -- is not anyone else's responsibility. *I* make my own destiny.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Early birds and second mice

I had to chuckle. I was in a workshop yesterday listening to a story about a woman who uses her morning "quiet time" to read complicated real estate documents, sipping her tea, long before anyone else was moving about the office.

I am so *not* a morning person. If I read complicated documents -- if I read ANYTHING before 10 a.m. other than a page or two in my current trashy novel while I'm drying my hair, you can be very afraid.

It has nothing to do with enough sleep. I can get my full eight hours of beauty sleep, and I still have to talk myself out of bed in the morning. If it isn't a can't-miss appointment that gets me up, it's guilt. Like so many, I grew up on that Ben Franklin adage, "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise" and that other one, "The early bird catches the worm." (my favorite corollary to that is, of course, "...but the second mouse gets the cheese.")

All my life I've been aware of a usually unspoken but definitely superior attitude that early risers are somehow more virtuous, more productive, more deserving that those of us who find our productivity peaks in the mid-afternoon, when theirs is bottoming out and revivable only briefly by a trip to the candy machine. I crank stuff out then: I am creative, I'm organized, I'm at the top of my game. My work is good -- certainly as good as anything those early birds so cheerily turn out before 10 a.m., and often better.

But employers expect butts in seats by 8 a.m., or, if they're more progressive, by 9 tops. And there always are the gossipy watchers who take note of when you come through the door in the morning, but who are long gone before you ever leave the building at night. What they actually accomplish during their 8 hours doesn't seem to make much difference: it's how early they're in the office.

Most of us who don't bound out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed are accepting of those who do, as long as they don't try to hold meaningful conversations or speak too loudly. We especially appreciate the ones who bring us coffee.

But the reverse is seldom true. The early birds strut and puff their feathers and make supercilious comments about how much they've accomplished by 10, and how they just cahn't function after 4 (or 5 or whenever, usually about the time we second mice are just catching our breath).

So I'll read my complicated documents around 2, thankyouverymuch, sipping my post-lunch cup of coffee, and write detailed memos and reports for you early birds to read at 6 a.m. when I'm just rolling over for another couple hours' sleep. Or maybe I'll wait until 5 p.m., after you've gone home and it's my quiet time.

And I won't make snide comments about your inability to speak coherently after 4, or how your eyelids droop in an afternoon meeting.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Waiting for change

Many things are pointing to something new for me, except I'm not sure what it is. Both of the online tarot readings that I use sometimes tell me this; my intuition says I'm on the brink of more change, or that I'm letting go of something old in preparation for something new.

This year has been full of transition and change, and I certainly am ready to let go of the grief and heartache. In so many ways my life is so sweet: I have this amazingly wonderful love and one who cherishes me the way I am, I work hours of my choosing for the most part, free from the political shenanigans of office life (yes, there are politically driven things, but NOT in our little office), I have a great home in a wonderful area, I have kitties to pet, books to read, good food to eat. I don't know that it gets any better than this. (well, winning the lottery would be okay, except I never buy a ticket)

So what's going on?

At this time in my life, I'm less welcoming of change. Change now can mean not-so-great things -- health issues, or money issues, or things-happening-to-the-kids issues. And because I cherish so much of our routine everyday life, I don't want to see anything happening to that.

So I'll just try to be mindful, be aware of what is happening around me and what choices I make, even if they seem inconsequential. Look within for answers. Watch for opening doors and windows, for new pathways, for suggestions.

The other night I had a very vivid dream: I'd been feeling a little stressed about work and volunteer tasks, feeling the need for better balance and yet my mind teeming with ideas for both. In the dream, work was in one heavy suitcase in my hand, volunteer work was in another heavy suitcase in my other hand. I gave myself permission in the dream to put them both down and sleep without worrying about them, understanding that I could pick them up again in the morning. It doesn't get much clearer than that, does it!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Reading recipes and finding sustenance

I've just put on a crockpot full of zucchini and chicken and breadcrumbs, all mixed with cheese and sour cream and cream of chicken soup -- it's too hot to light the oven, and I wanted to use some of our abundant harvest, plus make something that is comfort food -- like stuffing. It's a nice change from salads, which are cool and easy on hot days, but not always as satisfying as something hot and at least partially bad for you.

Like the zucchini brownies that I baked one day this week when it was fairly cool until noon: lots of shredded zucchini, plus cocoa and the usual baking ingredients, topped with a cup of evil chocolate chips. Yummy. Moist and rich. And the spicy zucchini bread with a crumbly topping, made the same day and frozen until some cooler day when the garden is asleep for the winter.

After some 50 years of cooking, I don't have many out-and-out failures (heavens to Julia Child, however can I have been cooking FOR 50 YEARS!!!!!) But I've had 'em. The most memorable was when I was about 22 and a newlywed, with a subscription to a reputable cookbook series. One book featured 'International' dishes. And I decided to make that English speciality, Steak and Kidney Pie. Bought the kidney and steak, made a piecrust, mixed it up, baked it, and served my new, easy-to-please hubby on our oh-so-trendy Franciscan Tulip Time earthenware dishes.

It was inedible. Threw it out, all the way into the *outdoor* trash can. We went out to dinner.

The Internet is a very fun resource for cooks, especially when you've got produce or meats that you want to use, but maybe don't have key ingredients to make an old standard. So you search: zucchini+chicken. Or what else can you do with eggplant besides ratatouille or parmesan? Ah-ha. Eggplant creole. Spicy, but different than spaghetti sauce.

Sites that are rated are the best because you know the recipe's been tried, and you can read comments. My favorite rated ones are Recipezaar and Allrecipes but Epicurious also has some good ones, although most are a little more gourmet and less down-home.

I've read cookbooks for years, not just when I'm trying to find a recipe, but as leisure-time, bed-time reading. The worst thing about reading at midnight is that you get hungry, and after visioning some lavish to-die-for dessert, or luscious creamy seafood and pasta creation, that cup of no-fat yogurt in the fridge just doesn't cut it.

But my very favorite cookbooks, the ones that are dog-eared, batter-spattered, and with the spiral binding half off from constant use, are church cookbooks. They were the rated recipes of the past, the *best* recipes from the kitchens of the church women. Every woman wanted to submit her specialty recipe for inclusion. Reading those, you know what was the *in* dish that year: chicken divan, or cream cheese crab dip, or turtle cake, or Next Best Thing to Robert Redford, that yummy, creamy, dessert confection that appeared on every potluck table in the mid-'80s.

Although I have many church cookbooks, the ones I most treasure are those from churches to which I belonged: I knew the cooks. When I read their treasured recipes, I can also "see" them as they were then: Mrs. Eiffert's marvelous carrot cake, Sally's addictive carmel corn, Eugenia's unsurpassed pan rolls. My mother's lemon ice box pie.

Many of the cooks are long dead. But as long as I have those books, they live for me, fixed in time, and I remember the year, the fashions, the trends, and those women who loved cooking too. That's a truly delicious legacy.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Seeking balance, and not the yoga kind

It appears as though Muggle has at least a few of her nine lives left -- she's in residence in our second bath and is alert, eating, and eager for petting. She's still got a little medicine left, and probably this weekend we'll move her back outside. Only a week ago we were convinced she was dying. Amazing little animals, they are.

The inside boys certainly had their respective noses out of joint, however, when we put her in there, although they seem to have pretty much forgotten now. Cheswick actually huffed and got angry when Tony restrained him while I was moving Muggle in. They had their own traumas this week when we plunked them into the cat carriers and went to the vet for shots and a checkover -- Ches hissed at me, and meowed pitifully all the way there, while McMurphy huddled with big yellow owl eyes looking even bigger. Both were pronounced to be fine, although Mac is 13 lbs and change, and needs to lose weight. We're putting the food up at night, and he is waiting right there by the water bowl in the mornings for his breakfast -- much like the outdoor kitties who charge the front door when we open it to put their food outside.

I've become very accustomed to the relative lack of stress in our lives here -- we have a routine that may vary some with our different activities, but is generally predictable. So when something happens to inject stress -- be it sick kitties, ripples from real estate, worrisome news from one of the kids, or our own minor aches and ailments -- it doesn't roll off as easily.

Sleep becomes elusive. Or troubled, with repetitious, anxiety-ridden dreams. I have difficulty getting motivated to do tasks which need doing, or I do those which help me avoid other, more stressful, tasks. I spend more time thinking about perceived character flaws, or recalling incidents long past that I wish I could do over. It is not productive thinking nor acting.

Such unexpected interruptions can trigger self-analysis -- good when it helps to illuminate areas that need adjustment -- in attitude, behavior, motivation. It is not good when you get stuck in the shoulda-coulda-wouldas and simply spin in place.

It comes back to balance, to learning to accept those things I cannot change. To figuring out how to change the things I can. And therein lies the third tenet: the wisdom to know the difference. That's the real work, right there, that wisdom thing, right along with the acceptance part. Achieving those, even momentarily, is to find that balance.

As long as I am alive there will be unexpected stresses complicating life. But the key to dealing with them -- good and bad -- is in finding balance. I need that reminder every so often, and so the universe throws me a few curves. I'm grateful that they are mostly small ones, distressing, perhaps, but not potentially shattering. And I'm grateful for the blessings revealed by seeking balance in stressful moments.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Nursing duty

We've been nursing a sick kitty since Thursday -- I found our little Muggle lying limply on the back patio Wednesday evening, unable to make her back legs work properly, and very listless.

For a day we watched to see if she'd get better on her own; I spoonfed her water and what little food she'd swallow. She'd crawl in and out of a little cat house we'd put back there, sometimes lying on the patio, sometimes in the house, pretty nonresponsive. Friday we took her to our vet who ruled out neurological damage and took Xrays to check for breaks. He said it appeared to be soft tissue damage from something and sent us home with antibiotic and pain killers. He also shaved her hips, which were solidly matted from all the burrs and foxtail and Medusaheads that abound here, so she really looks even more pathetic, with her long black fur on part of her back and the bald patches.

I made a loose corral around the door and her house since she wasn't able to move very far -- but Sunday morning she was gone. We looked all over, called, checked everywhere, but no cat. Yesterday afternoon we spotted her under the RV, her favorite place, but she was squarely in the middle of the gravel pad underneath it so there was no way to reach for her, and neither of us were about to crawl under it. We no avail.

Today I watched her hoist herself up onto the undercarriage, her favorite hiding place, and she spent most of the day there. I put out water and some food, which Weasley -- our six-toed Manx ginger cat who was lounging near the back of the pad -- thought was wonderful: room service!

Late this afternoon I saw her on the ground again, and went out to see. Sitting on an old rug, I talked softly, urging her to have some food, some water, a little of the milk/soft food slurry I'd brought, but she was still beyond reach, although she did come to drink -- but not near enough. I patted the old rug I was sitting on, calling her to come to momma. Clearly she was more mobile than she'd been, and maybe a little more responsive. So I poked the elastic cord from the tire cover at her paw. Muggle could ALWAYS be lured out of hiding with a long blade of grass or a piece of string, and today was no exception.

WHACK. The paw snagged the looped end, and she didn't let go. So I pulled slowly until she was in reach and nabbed her.

She's residing in the bathroom tonight with litter box, bed, food, and water, and has been medicated. That's where she'll stay for now.

We're a little more hopeful.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Let the games....end

I hate playing games. (Not the Scrabble-Monopoly-Trivial Pursuit ones--love those!)

No, I mean the political stab-them-before-they-stab-you ones, the ones that are in nearly every corporate office environment. And you'll also find them in churches, in non-profit organizations, in bowling leagues and women's circles, in associations and service clubs. It's a rare group that doesn't have dissent and us-against-them politics.

You know the scenario:
PowerHungryAggressiveToadie (or PHAT) A doesn't like PHAT B's power/ideas/style/name-your-own attribute. So PHAT A conspires with PHAT C, who usually is a few steps lower on the power ladder than either A or B, although not always, to overthrow or embarrass or undermine PHAT B's leadership/reputation/power.

The plot nearly always thickens through covert phone calls, lunches away from the usual organizational hangouts, e-mails and IMs, and thinly veiled "suggestions" or challenges. Sometimes the exact nature of the plot isn't even discussed forthrightly, but is set up with innuendo and rumor, so that PHATs A & C, and all their lemming-like minions, can claim that they didn't have ANY IDEA what was going on. Sometimes all appears fine on the surface, but when you dig a little, you uncover creepie-crawlies and slime at the core.

It's nasty. It creates an us-against-them environment, with undercurrents of stress and angst all the time. It takes huge amounts of time away from productive activities that could actually benefit the group/company/consumer. In the end, one PHAT has replaced another PHAT, and promptly overturns much of what little had been accomplished by the previous PHAT. Corporate and organizational wheels spin. Worker bees who either report to a PHAT or whose work is subject to approval by a PHAT chew up lots of brain cells just trying to figure out who to avoid this week.

And this is not limited to corporate offices. I have seen this scenario firsthand in church governance, both at local and conference levels. I've seen it in associations to which I've belonged both as volunteer and as staff (although my area of expertise is usually a self-starting, one-person job that few in leadership roles understand enough to be threatened). I've seen it in very small clubs and organizations, fer Pete's sake!

Playing head games is such work! Who said what to whom, what happened, howcanwelethim/hergetawaywiththat stuff? It's anxiety all the time just trying to keep up with the players, much less be actively involved.

I wasn't ever good at corporate games, and as a result, never advanced very far up the career ladder. While I *will* listen to gossip (okay, I'm nosy), I rarely remember enough of it to repeat (and don't care about it anyway), which means that the real gossip mongers leave me alone because I don't have any dirt to share in return.

When I left my last corporate job, I swore I would never play games again. I am a WYSIWYG personality -- What You See is What You Get -- although I *am* capable of keeping my mouth shut and my opinions to myself occasionally.

So when the games begin, when I see political motives creeping into a group of which I am a member, I say something, I may try to change that course. Failing that, I bail.

Life is too short to spend time with people who are doing things that plot against other people. It's too short to waste talent and invest time in a group that is more concerned about power and which faction has it than about accomplishing the goals of the organization in a way that will benefit the members, the endusers, or the profession.

I have a strong moral compass that keeps me doing what's right (thanks, Mom and Dad). I have to look at myself every morning and night, and I need to be okay with who I see -- in right speech, right action, right intent, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness. If I compromise that compass, I am not okay mentally or physically.

It doesn't make me the most popular person. My actions are sometimes misunderstood and maligned, usually by those who wrap power around themselves like a snakeskin. Sometimes I get hurt and agonize over my decisions. But the compass always swings to show me the path.

Anne Frank said, in the nightmare of the Holocaust, "I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."

Me too. Even the game players.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Seeing (and feeling, smelling) things

I've been bombarded these past few days with sense memories of my mother. She feels close by, and there is strong nostalgia and sadness that makes tears well up but not spill over.

Sense memory is not fully understood by science -- in the nose, for instance, the neurons die in 60 days and new ones are generated -- so how do you explain the flood of little girl memories when in the middle of the grocery store I catch a whiff of Tabu, which for years was my mother's perfume? And remember Canoe, *the* men's fragrance of the '60s? It immediately triggers memories of darkened gymnasiums decked with crepe paper, with an underlying hint of sweaty clothes , and dancing cheek to cheek with my boyfriend, one tall order of raging hormones rarin' to go.

I paged through a new catalog and saw a sweater that Mom would have loved, and I could *see* her in it, sitting in her lift chair, her snowy hair arranged just so, lipstick on and cheeks blushed. (It takes longer to write the description than it did to flash on the image...)

Her engagement ring and my grandmother's wedding ring are on my right hand and I wear them always. But last night, as I was listening to someone talking in a meeting, I felt *her* hand wearing it, touching mine, and when I squinted, I could see that thin veined hand with fingers slightly askew from arthritis. And what 50-ish woman hasn't had the experience of putting her arm through a sleeve and seeing her mother's hand come through it?

I finished a book by Linda Ellerbee, "Take Big Bites," and knew that Mom would have loved it, and probably Daddy too. Mom *read* in recent years through Books on Tape, often falling asleep in the middle of a tape, and then having to rewind to the place where she dozed. Even in her last week of life, she read, through the eyes and voice of her dear caretaker Pat, who told me that she'd skipped some pages so that they could finish the book before Mom slipped away.

I wanted to call her and tell her about the book. So I did...but not through any phone system.

Aromas of coffee and toast and bacon -- real, honest-to-god, full-fat slices of pig and not the turkey stuff -- instantly put me in the bedroom where I grew up, waking to those homey scents and hearing the Corningware coffeemaker perking frantically, my father singing while he turned the bacon.

Sense memories make me aware of time passing -- how much sand has dripped through life's hourglass -- and I marvel at how something so trivial, so common can evoke such strong feelings so many years later. They are uniquely personal...while my brother may share event memories, he has his own sense memories. And we are constantly adding to our sensory library, unconsciously linking a place, a time in life, a person, an event with our emotions, our memories.

Tonight I'll look at the full moon from Daddy's shoulder, the way I did when I was three and he carried me outside one summer night to see it, and he sang to me: "By the light....of the silvery moon...."

Monday, August 07, 2006

Seeking clarity

There's a full moon on Wednesday, called Sturgeon or Green Corn moon by the Indians. It celebrates plentiful fish, ripening of grain, the first fruits, the promise of good harvest. But it also isn't a done deal -- while things look promising, the harvest isn't in yet.

It feels unsettled around here, around the world. Bombs and bullets are flying in the MidEast, gas prices may go to maybe $4 a gallon, the heat wave has caused death and destruction in its journey across the country. Although our weather today was remarkably comfortable (windows open all day!), it also is ripe for thunderstorms and lightening strikes that start fires.

This moon marks the end of summer in some ways -- okay, maybe not here, where 100-degree days are likely clear into October -- but school will be back in session next week for many, and others aren't far behind. Fashions show sweaters and leggings (shades of the late '90s!) and boots, while most of us are getting sick of wearing our summer linens and shorts and sandals but know we're stuck with them for another 45 days at least. Yuk.

It feels unbalanced, on edge, waiting for something to happen that will snap us out of these dog days doldrums, back into the flow of life.

I feel it, sort of like one of those crossroads in life where everything will be affected by which way I choose to go. Except I'm not entirely sure what the choices are, which makes it difficult, and that only contributes to the unsettled feeling.

The full moon only exacerbates strong feelings in any month. Shining on an already unsettled world, it may well reveal truths and lies that have been shadowed for some time.

And it also may bring clarity to actions and decisions and pathways. That incredible light illuminates our landscape in blacks and whites, rather than the sunlit confusion of color.

I hate dithering, feeling unsettled, knowing that there are decisions I must make, and trying to figure out just what is at stake. It makes me anxious, unable to really move in any direction -- and that's not good for business nor for me!

So I'll be outside on Wednesday night, watching the moon rise, listening to the night and to my heart and mind, in hopes that what is hidden might be seen more clearly. I know I won't be the only seeker.

Natural soothing

There's something soothing about watching cats go about their daily business, whatever passes for daily business with a pair of pampered housecats.

I've heard it said that dogs have owners but cats have staff. Our indoor boys, McMurphy and Cheswick, certainly think we are here to cater to their every whim, be it turning on the faucet so Ches can sip fresh water, or providing laser pointer exercise whenever Mac stares at the little box in which said pointer is kept.

We have outdoor cats, too -- Lulu, Hermione, Harry, Weasley, Muggle -- and they earn their keep by reducing the rodent population near the house and in the garden, thus protecting our immediate surroundings from rattlesnakes. In exchange, they have an endless supply of cat food, fresh water, and much loving attention anytime we are outdoors. But we don't know them intimately, as we do the indoor guys, even though we've had all but Lulu since they were 3-4 weeks old.

Cheswick invariably leaps on our bed somewhere between 6 and 6:30 every morning, with a little "mrow." He expects to be petted then, preferably by both of us in turn.

The indoor boys go to Doc for checkups and vaccinations tomorrow. We're concerned that Muggle may have feline leukemia, and since the outdoor cats regularly swap spit over the food dish, they've all been exposed. Unfortunately the indoor cats probably have been, too, if that's what she has. We'll see what Doc says.

We've already lost one cat this summer. Hufflepuff disappeared while we were in Colorado, and we have no idea what happened to her. That's three cats -- four counting the kitten who was with us for only a day and then disappeared off the front porch -- gone from the original outside group of eight.

We've worked not to be so attached to the outside kitties, but each has its own personality. Weasley is a loving cat -- although he showed up late Saturday night with part of his ear torn in a strip and a couple of punctures here and there -- and is the outside lap cat. Harry Potter, the sleek tiger, is our roamer. He spends time at the neighbors, wanders who-knows-where, and sometimes isn't seen for days. Lately he's been at the food dish every night and every morning, but disappears during the day. He also wants to be petted, but he is just a little wild, and we're careful with him. Lulu, momma to Harry, Hermione, and Muggle, and the late Flitwick, is a strange little cat, affectionate in her way, but rarely a lap cat. Hermione and Muggle, the long-haired ones, are my cats: they'll tolerate my brushing them to get burrs out of fur and skin for quite a while before they've had enough, and they will sit on my lap to be loved on, but neither of them is very sociable with the others.

Petting a cat is therapeutic, usually evoking deep, endless purring that rumbles beneath the hand, and for that moment, that's all that matters to either of us. I love my kitties.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Acquiring wisdom: acceptance and change

Y'know, sometimes even when you do all you can, it just isn't enough.

You lose a deal you've worked hard to make fly. Somebody else gets the promotion you were in line to get. You eat right, exercise, and get coronary disease anyway, or osteoporosis, or a host of other medical ills. The house next door sells in two days, and yours--just as nice-- takes six months -- and you're the one who's moving out of state -- he's staying in town.

It's hard not to take it personally, to wonder what else you could have done, to feel rejected and angry and hurt. To question your ability, or your destiny.

It's the old 'shoulda-coulda-woulda' thinking: I 'should' have done this; I 'could' have done that; I 'would' have changed this.

In the end, the outcome is still the same.

So how do you cope with the ice weasels that whisper what a loser you are, or how you always screw things up, or that nobody wants to be your friend.

Bad ice weasels!

Having a pity party for a day is okay, where you eat comfort food and watch movies, where you don't get out of your jammies, or even out of bed if you don't feel like it.

But that's all. Then you gotta climb out of that pity pit and figure out what comes next.

Analyze the situation -- UNemotionally (my personal mountain) -- to see if there is anything to be learned from it -- is there something you can do to mitigate the results? How do you keep from putting yourself in the same situation? What are other options?

Sometimes we are so busy staring at the closed door that we don't see the open window. Open your eyes. Open your hearts and minds.

Stop beating yourself up. Sometimes you must take responsibility for actions or inactions. But sometimes there is nothing you could have done to change the outcome. Accept that. Let it be.

Over the years, in many situations such as these, I've learned a few things: change is the only constant. That critical judge in my head is the harshest one I'll ever encounter, and he's wrong. If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. I am powerless over people, places, and things. I make my own destiny.

I have to go through the Monday morning quarterbacking, though, nearly every time, and tell the ice weasels to shut up and go to sleep. I have to examine the remains to see what I can learn -- sort of like CSI investigators. And then, most importantly and the most difficult, I have to accept, change my actions if necessary, and let it be.

It's hard. I've done it a thousand times. You'd think it'd get easier.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Critter watching of another sort

There are daytime critters who share our land, and then there are the nighttime ones, the stealthy sort who creep -- or boldly strut -- onto the lighted front porch in quest of cat food.

And they chow down, even when we rattle the door a little from the inside. Chomp.

The night critters -- possums and raccoons, in addition to the occasional stray cat -- seem to be more bold, more "yeah, so?"

Last night, there were TWO big, fat raccoons sharing the dish. They weren't dipping with their paws; they had muzzles right down in the dish and were enjoying a cozy cat food dinner.

I banged hard on the door and charged out, hollering and barking, and those big furry butts fled the porch in a hurry, with one going straight and the other right. I tried to follow them with the flashlight, but there was no further sign of either. (I suspect they were quietly chortling at the weird barking lady.)

One of them has been a frequent visitor, although he's been considerably more cautious lately. We've tried, unsuccessfully, to bag him for months. First we tried Tony sneaking out the side door and waiting with the shotgun in hopes that he'd come that way, while I charged out of the front door. He went left, running right by Tony -- unscathed--for several attempts, and then started escaping to the right, towards the motor home. Or he'd run straight, towards the well and the propane tank. Not good things to have in the line of fire.

Tony's gone so far as to position the cat food away from from the porch and wait in the truck, windows down, gun ready -- always without even a sighting.

Lately we've quietly positioned ourselves at the front door when we've spotted one, with me carefully easing the handle down and then jerking the door wide open while Tony rushes out with the shotgun and fires. We think he might have been nicked with a pellet recently, because until last night, he hadn't returned. Maybe he thinks there's safety in numbers? Or he just hasn't told his buddy coon about the stoopid humans in the house who interrupt dinner.

We had possums before we had raccoons, vicious, spitting hairless ratty things who would gorge themselves at the dish. They're slower, however, and not as smart, and we ended raids by two of 'em without wasting a bunch of shells first. Until last night, they've not been back. When I flipped on the light in the back to bring in the little dish of food, I saw a gray, ratty tail disappear around the corner, and thought it looked like a possum -- but our poor little Hermione kitty also has a gray tail, and I've hacked at her fur for weeks, trying to get all the burrs out (she's long haired, and a burr magnet), so I thought it *could* have been her.

Nope. Tonight it was back, on the front porch this time, eating heartily without any sign of caution. Without being especially quiet about it, Tony got the gun, I jerked the door open, and BOOM he was down. It took two more shots before he was dead -- and it's not that Tony is a bad shot.

Shooting anything is so not me. I've never shot a gun and I cry at "Bambi." But these marauders are messing with my cats, and I know they can hurt or kill a cat. We bring the cat food in at night, and always turn the light on the porch when it gets dark -- and these critters come right on up anyway. I watched Weasley charge the raccoon once, and big as he is, he's much smaller than the coon.

So we defend our home and outdoor kitties against these critters. As long as they stay in the woods, they're safe, and I don't mind sharing. But when they come into my domain, threatening my cats, I mind. Guess it's not much different from the state of the world, hm.