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Fur babies, Kitten, Lost pet, pets, Travel

Eat, Play, Love

Recently I’ve been walking with a friend at a park on the Atlanta Beltline where there are loads of people out with their dogs. With no dog of my own going on nearly a year, I’m on a “soft” hunt, stopping walkers with cute large dogs that smile at me to learn where they got theirs.  One such golden retriever encounter sent me to a website where I assumed I’d see similar smiling pups. Scrolling the site, however, I saw dogs from all over, cats too, and soon landed on an image I couldn’t unsee. 

I’ve already got Bo, an oversized big-hearted orange tabby who recently lost his buddy Louie, also a ginger, but who now seems bored living with just us humans. Adding insult to injury, the vet suggested he slim down, so the days without his beloved carb rich kibble have grown noticeably duller.

If you cast your line out, that cork is eventually going to bob, and while I do like fishing, be careful what you fish for. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say this calico might have became an obsession, and of course I emailed Jessica, who owns the kitten’s mama cat, but who, as it turns out, lives several states away on a farm in Pennsylvania. Obviously, that wasn’t going to work, but from our exchange I’d already learned that the kitten is super sweet, great with people and dogs, and in a week will be weaned and ready to go. Despite this highly impractical deterrent, my husband agreed that this was one cute cat. Fast forward a few days and several thousand SkyMiles and we found ourselves on a plane to Baltimore.

ATL => BWI

My suitcase held a collapsed cat carrier, a dish tub for a litter box, small bag of litter (which security flagged) and other assorted kitten things–toys, towels, food and water bowls–and in my carry on some reading, a toothbrush and change of clothes.  With so much already invested, in flight my brain kicked into worry mode: With Samantha sleeping outside, what if coyotes get to her before I can? Or as many new adoptive parents fear and experience, what if this family changes their mind? 

Typical Annapolis street

Putting worries aside, we landed and our Nissan Rogue was up for the task: the way back held luggage, the middle seat was dedicated kitten land, and the humans called front. I brought a shower curtain to drape over the back seat and bubble wrap this kitten’s world and preserve the car seat. We made our way to Annapolis, Md., every bit as beautiful as I’d heard, and walked around past old houses and the waterfront, which felt equal parts Virginia and New England, all of it quaint, historic and oozing charm.

Faidley’s, Lexington Market

Next stop was Baltimore and lunch at Lexington Market, home of Faidley’s famous crab cakes. The baseball-sized jumbo lump crab cake we each ordered was delicious, not too eggy and with barely, if any, filler.  Faidleys was bustling with counters selling every type of seafood imaginable, and we stood at one of the small round tables to eat, airport style. 

After lunch we pressed on to Millersville, Pa., passing rich farmland with stripes of green, brown, and gold rolling hills and into Lancaster (pronounced “LANG-ki-ster”), the oldest inland town in the U.S. We stayed at an inexpensive Airbnb in Bird-In-Hand, Pa., and our room was in one of several non-descript buildings behind a pretty Victorian house. Simple enough, it had a double bed, a Bible on the nightstand, two bars of soap the size of foil wrapped pats of butter, and zero Wi-Fi. Driving in, we noticed an Amish-owned market selling pies, but arrived too late to sample any. We did, however, see several Amish families traveling via iconic horse and buggy, tops up and wipers going in the mist, and with surprising bright red blinking turn signals illuminating the rainy road. 

Former train depot now Lititz Welcome Center

Dinner was in an adjacent town, Lititz, and we struggled mightily pronouncing it: Le Tits? Luteetz? Leatitz?  I asked a woman on the street who could only offer up that she knew it had “tit” in its name, but shrugged her shoulders saying what did she know, she was from Jersey. (It’s LIT-itz by the way.) Lititz was a cute town that reminded me of Decatur, Ga., where the parking meters stop running at 6pm and there are crosswalk buttons activating blinking lights for cars to stop and let you cross. The houses and shops are super old and well kempt, the restaurant menus are fresh and modern, and there are even local wines from Pennsylvania vineyards. Dinner was good.

Brunch patio overhead

We got up early and checked out, which consisted of placing our room key in a bowl on a desk in the main house’s living room, where it seems no one ever sits. A few steps to the car and we set off for Lancaster to find breakfast. Google gave “On Orange,” an aptly named eclectic brunch spot on Orange Street, 4.7 stars so we put our name on the list and got a table on the garden patio in back. Swedish oat pancakes, peasant omelets, and attentive, amicable staff made it a memorable spot. Afterwards we saw the Soldiers and Sailors monument in Penn Square and peered inside Central Market, the oldest (1730) continuously running public farmers’ market in the country, but unfortunately, it’s closed Sundays.

Next, we headed to Jessica’s in Shippensburg, Pa., which was over an hour’s drive, but which brought more picturesque farmland out the window. Once there, we drove down a long driveway to the back where we saw at least five faces peering out of a plate glass window. Jessica and her daughter came outside, the daughter holding the tiny kitten they had named Samantha. Mom and daughter both wore long dresses, and on her head, Jessica wore a sheer white net stiff cap which appeared to be in the Amish Mennonite tradition. I read that “The Beachy Amish and Amish Mennonites are the car-driving, outreach focused cousin of the more broadly known horse-and-buggy Amish” (www.beachyam.org), and I thought I’d spotted a Honda Odyssey in their driveway. While several of her cats and dogs greeted us outside, Jessica was friendly too and told us she had five children. She resembled my friend Martee with her similarly pretty face, relaxed countenance, and warm heart she wore outside her body and which extended to all creatures.

Kitten backseat snuggling with stuffed cat

The kitten looked just like her picture with patches of orange, black, and white fur arranged in a striking haphazard pattern wrapped around the tiniest of bodies, and she had an adorable miniature pink nose and pads. We said our goodbyes after attempting to let Samantha’s cat mama have a final moment with her baby, but instead she walked away tired, the way mothers sometimes do. Samantha was an easy traveler and slept during most of the 9-10-hour drive next to a stuffed cat I got her with a battery beating heart inside, and her wake time was typical cat–nibbling on kibble, playing, purring, and even breaking in her first litter box, which “gift” we promptly disposed of. I can only imagine seeing two people riding along the highway at night with the inside car light on and front passenger twisting her body around to the back seat to observe and applaud a barely one-pound creature’s first ever litter box elimination was a sight, but in that moment, I was one proud mama.

The Wild West

To better acclimate our kitten to life at home with another cat, I’ve been watching videos from Jackson Galaxy, an internet cat behaviorist my son’s girlfriend told me about (www.jacksongalaxy.com). His “Eat, Play, Love” approach to successful feline introductions recommends that both cats stay busy and entertained, eat well and get plenty of love and attention. Introducing your resident cat to a new kitten must happen slowly and deliberately following specific steps so each will associate positive feelings around the other, one giant step toward successful catification. By letting them eat together with a door initially between them and then a screen, they’ll gradually realize that spending time near the other brings good things like tasty meals. When you eventually do bring your cats together, you should distract the kitten with toys and the adult cat with a special treat, so each has a fun focus, and everyone can avoid a feline standoff. Soon there will be a face-to-face, but for now, these cats will continue snacking and staring at one another through a screen. 

My sister has remarked, “I can’t believe you’re doing this,” and in many ways neither can I. We are busy, the house is cluttered and under renovation, and things aren’t even close to feeling settled, yet the nagging feeling my current cat is bored out of his mind is disconcerting. I feel his pain; what if I occupied a home as the only human surrounded by cats? Also, losing two pets in nine months has left a gaping hole, and the house is achingly quiet. 

I weighed 1.24 lbs. at the doctor today!

However, only a few days in, I alternate being ready for this sweetheart to grow out of her infant kitten stage and just snuggle with Bo already, to going into her room and having her sidle up beside me and rub her tiny face against my leg and melting right there on the spot. These early new pet days don’t feel as energized as with the last cat when the kids lived at home and their exuberance camouflaged the extra work, and it feels a little what dating after a divorce or death might feel like–a little premature, contrived, and unusual to be hanging out with a stranger–but her sweet friendly nature and face I can hardly take in for all its striking beauty has won me over and soon will Bo as well. I found it interesting to read that orange tabbies are nearly always males and calicos nearly always females, so at least Bo and Samantha have that statistic in common, but for now they’re continuing the between the screen stare down.

Did I need to travel all this way to find a kitten? Absolutely not, and the jet fuel to Maryland alone categorizes me as incredibly wasteful. Did I need to hurry and barely three weeks after losing Louie go and add another pet to this house? Again, no. None of this involved logic, just extra love that needed somewhere to go. 

Welcome to our house, Samantha. 

Euthanasia, Fur babies, pets

Forget-me-not

The cat carrier was unzipped by the door for Bo’s ride to his 8am well check, the very place we’d visit again at 5:30pm to say goodbye to Louie, our other cat. They’d be sedating Bo again because at each trip to the vet he morphs into a monster. I scooped him up when he least suspected it, stuffing our furry squirming water balloon into the carrier. I began zipping the top and his head popped out the other end. I stuffed it back down, zipped some more, and a paw shot through the open slit. I continued this Whack A Mole stuffing and zipping game until we were all closed up, then he began body slamming the sides of his carrier, which rocked furiously, wobbling low to the ground like a Weeble, but it didn’t fall down. 

Vine covered trellis in its prime

We took our usual route and I passed a house I always notice, with its striking crisscrossed trellis supporting a beautiful vine climbing its side and back wall. Now it looked scant and dying, life’s fragility greeting me head on today of all days. We made it more than halfway to the vet before Bo began vomiting, but I was done playing Whack A Mole and didn’t dare unzip him. I dropped him off with the usual apologies–sorry my cat is like this, I promise he’s really sweet at home, and he may have vomited, so you might need to clean it up. Sorry.

Up up and away. Artist: Ben Greco

Home now to love on Louie. I found him where I’d left him on the towel on the comfy brown couch, and brought him water and food, which he barely touched. As I sat with him, I noticed the colorful hot air balloon painting on the wall which my older son Ben made years earlier. I told Louie that a hot air balloon would be meeting us in midtown, and later that afternoon he would be taking a ride high up in the clouds. There would be fresh catnip cascading down the balloon’s basket, and he would be able to snack to his heart’s content. Birds would be flying by and he could watch them while he nibbled. No longer weak, he will be light as a feather floating up high until it’s time to check in to heaven. All kinds of people and animals will greet him, our dog Lucie at the head of the line. At home there he can weave in and out of leafy zinnia plants, track butterflies, and nibble on tall blades of grass, and it will feel wonderfully familiar, yet new, and he will always remember our days together, too. Nothing’s ending; a new chapter’s beginning is all.

I moved us to the screened porch so he could snooze in his cat tree in the sun, and there he molded perfectly into it, bowing his head back into sleep. We lolled the afternoon away, alternating between the porch and the couch and the back yard, where he walked a little and lied down in the grass, his favorite place. I will always cherish these quiet hours we shared. 

I missed a call from the vet, who after sedated well checks typically rings me to say the sedation went well, Bo’s woken up and he’s ready to go. This message, however, was of the I was calling about your cat, please call us variety. Of course, my mind raced to, Bo has had a coronary from all the stress and his fatness, and now our furry family in the blink of this astonishingly gorgeous day is gone. I called back but the doctor was in procedures and I would have to wait. An hour later with fear puncturing my calm time with Louie, I could stand it no more and called again, pressing the receptionist to see if I could come pick up Bo. The doctor got on and explained Bo’s blood sugar looked high and he is morbidly obese. It could be pre-diabetes, but they couldn’t collect urine with him being what she dubbed “impressive,” code for the cat who should have had Gabapentin in advance of sedation, which didn’t really take, the 17-pounder who not only hissed and cried and cowered, but viscerally lunged at them.  Results from the blood sample they did get would be ready the next day. I was just incredulous and grateful that we could keep loving on our remaining cat, beautiful Bo, and I picked him up and home we went.

Louie and his good buddy, Evan

Finally, it was time for Louie and me to leave, so Joe put his Zoom call on mute and tenderly carried Louie out to the car. He teared up and I felt bad whisking Louie away so quickly as Joe’s busy workday hadn’t afforded him the leisurely Louie time I got. In the car, instead of perching his paws on the window to watch the world whizzing by, Louie curled up sweetly in my lap with his head down, napping while I told him over and over how special he was. We arrived and I stood outside on the lawn cradling my fur baby as I waited for Evan, my warm blanket I had called earlier in tears, who showed up to support not only his dear friend, but the mom they shared. A nice vet tech greeted us, and we walked outside to the back to meet the doctor. The three of us sat together in a grassy area on a fluffy blanket with Louie peaceful and in his element. The doctor was tender and loving, and the moment sweet, swift, elegant and serene. 

Once home I walked around looking at the towel covered couches, the little ramekins of water spread around the kitchen and porch, the Saran Wrap-covered bowls of kibble at the ready, the pill containers, all of them key players to nourish my sweet Lou, but now reduced to ordinary items to be washed and put away. Disease is particularly messy and depressing.

I felt caged at home, trying to shower attention on Bo, but still kind of mad at him for the embarrassing scene he once again created and emotionally spent from the loss of Louie, so I took off on foot for downtown to move through the rest of this interminable day. Throngs of people spilled out of restaurants, onto patios and lawns soaking in this spectacular day, Earth Day 2022, and celebrating Friday’s arrival. I appeared like a stranger who’d just woken from a trance, walking through any town USA on any spring Friday. I kept going, hoping to get the day done. The air was perfectly gorgeous, and I loved that Louie and I had together squeezed so much out of this day. Home after 9pm, I made some eggs and opened the mail (of course, Louie’s rabies tag had arrived) and went up to bed. 

Three pounds to lose, and much better health to gain. You’ve got this, Bo.

The next morning, I was in full on Bo mode and getting his breakfast, now reduced to mini cans of food instead of the more caloric kibble. The vet called and said Bo’s bloodwork was inconclusive on diabetes, but showed elevated blood sugars, not crazy high, but not nothing. It could be he’s just gotten heavier from the extra food he’s stolen as I’ve been trying to beef up Louie’s dwindling frame. Another call from the vet today concluded Bo is just fat, thankfully, and not diabetic. You can fix fat, but diabetes is not so simple. So fat we will fix, with moving the litter box up the 22 stairs to the second story, sticking with wet food, and regular weigh-ins. 

I’ve shed many a tear over cats and dogs. I hope to love many more. 

Lucie, Louie, Bo

This comment from a friend after I posted about Louie’s passing stayed with me. Life is indeed bittersweet, but all the tears are worth it. You get to love the furry creatures that come into your life, and the energy they bring into your home is like no other–what a privilege. I’ve spent way too much time looking back (Hindsight), yet realize it’s natural to relish what you’ve loved and lost. However, all that love with seemingly nowhere to go does in fact have a home, and it’s here with the people and pets you are with now. And the ones you’ve yet to meet, and there will be more.

Bouquet wrapped with Louie’s collar

Another memorable phrase I’m hanging onto came in a card a friend sent. “Heaven is a little brighter” and indeed it is. I feel certain this life here in these bodies is not the whole story. Along with the card was a lovely homegrown bouquet with forget-me-nots, catmint and catnip, which Bo discovered and devoured this morning. Just like with a birth, seems as with a death, it helps to bring something for the other sibling, in this case, fresh catnip. Big love to you, sweet Lou. We will never forget you.

breast cancer, connection, Health

Ta-ta Ganache

A few months ago, I joined an online group of women also dealing with breast cancer. There are five of us in this private group and using an app, similar to walkie-talkies, we post videos to each other to check in, share advice, build each other up, or simply vent. I’d been wanting to connect with others dealing with cancer’s fallout, but I now realize I needed distance from it to reach out, feel as if I’m going to be okay before I opened the gates to talk about all that wasn’t. I’d need a life preserver if I were to willingly jump in. There would be seemingly little risk, like a game of strip poker, but only down to your underwear. I saw my strain of bravery, this vulnerability “lite,” peeking out to see who might be there, and ripe for a connection, I found it.

I’m two years out with this thing they call “survivorship,” and with another recent uneventful bilateral MRI in the books, but these women are in the thick of it as we speak, getting double mastectomies (one bidding adieu, “Ta-ta, ta-tas” with a sugar coated “ta-ta” sculptured cake with chocolate ganache inside), chemo, and with radiation ahead, and their experiences, like my own, are each unique. Ten years older than the oldest of these women, I bring a combination of mother hen, cheerleader and wise sage, and having something to offer is deeply rewarding and an encouraging reminder that I now have perspective behind me, but I didn’t expect the PTSD. You move through all the things, doing what your doctors say, popping the pills you need, showing up where and when things are scheduled, but you never exactly process the scary busyness that takes hold, that it’s YOU going through that thing we all associate with dread, that invasive spreader whose reputation is to run amok with nothing but destruction in mind.

Enter modern medicine and its loving hands which set to work fashioning an impenetrable fence around me–not scary barbed wire, but a charming, strong wooden fence with heart shaped vines climbing its pickets. My body was open to it all, ready for the help, since we’re designed to heal. Today, the shoulder that wouldn’t rotate quite right–a reminder of surgery, biopsies and radiation–with time and a little work, is now cooperating and acting mostly like it used to, a now seamless part of me no longer vying for my attention. The scar tissue that felt like a pierced ear does, little knots from where needles and a knife twirled inside, is smoothing out, no longer a jumbled mess, but becoming part of a whole again, connected like it once was, but with greater intention. The hair on my head, once gone in places and growing in as little sprigs, has returned and no longer ignores the hair brush, but celebrates it, and it’s nearly ready to be collected into a pony tail, which will be the nape of my neck’s hero as heat and humidity get here.

Initially with the news of a diagnosis, there was the, “How could you betray me so? I thought we were on the same team, wanted the same things?” mindset I took on with my body, which, without my permission, had an invader following some appalling set of instructions. I could neither speak the language in which all my cells were surely now fluent, nor could I override the faulty instruction. The waiting for doctors to weigh in, drugs to suffocate these wayward intruders, and some semblance of normal cortisol to return and restore my hijacked endocrine system seemed endless. 

Then I got started, did the appointments, took the IV, the radiation beams, accepted the suppers lovingly assembled, and invited friends to go with me to chemo and on walks. It was there during treatments and on those walks that I think I saw things the clearest. There, at your most vulnerable–I mean, you’ve got cancer for God’s sake–people want to be near you, want a part of you and this godawful experience, not to gawk or get closer to the accident on the side of the road, but for the sole purpose of you not having to carry this alone. They are there to pick up the slack, commissioning their time, their listening and their love to quiet the chaos and snuff out the cancer. 

It’s there when you’re at your lowest, in the scariest time of your life, in the middle of the cruelest interruption you could imagine, that love, as pure and unconditional as a mother’s, keeps right on flowing as it always has, unopposed and easy. When you’re getting low, there are filling stations everywhere–at the end of a text, an email, a phone call, and just when you need to hide under the covers, your cat sidles up beside you. It’s there in the videos I’ve left for these women and the ones I’ve gotten back, and with each exchange, each giving and taking, there is a recharging of all of us and of love itself. Some are finding since they can vent in this space, they are now able to enjoy conversations with their partners that aren’t about cancer, for a change. It’s freeing to get it out, but also a reminder that when you do, people don’t go away. Everything changes, but the good ones, the people you need by your side, the ones you have attracted, these people, they stick around. 

You can fill up anytime, and have seconds, thirds, fourths even. Whenever you want a clean plate to start over, there are plenty of those too. The more you give, the more you make. Like breast milk. Forgive me, but I do love a good circle back. 

I wrote this poem for this dear group, but I think it applies to anyone who is struggling with something and feeling scared, separate, or isolated. We are designed to heal and to connect, and we can’t do one without the other. 

SISTERS

Across the pond, up east, down south and in between, we’ve formed a bond, an open circle, one none of us could have foreseen. Women, strong, brave and kind, each with hearts of gold, sending each other videos that nourish the fold.

We are daughters, lovers, some of us mothers, too. We’ll mother a stranger and we’ll mother you. Here, though, we are sisters, together locked arm-in-arm. We’ve made a place that fills us up and tears us up, but which can do us no harm. 

It’s a love fest, some say, one that appears to lead the way. It’s a fest about breasts, no matter if they go or if they stay. Whatever stage, whatever grade, whatever scans about yourself, you bring your truth, you bring your heart, and for that you, my dear, are top shelf. 

Anxiety, Family, Skiing, Travel

Adventures in Skiing

Along the road to Beaver Creek, CO

Do something every day that scares you. We’ve all heard that phrase, but who the hell came up with that advice? I am here to attest it yields mixed results. We are in Colorado where we began skiing a few days ago. The boots fit even nicer here than the ones I wore in North Carolina recently at a much smaller place where I went for a skiing test run. There I stuck to the singular baby slope and graduated to skiing two runs down a green. Here, the hotel will hold on to your skis and boots, which makes life far easier. No lugging snowy equipment to your car where freezing wet boots await you the next day. 

Ready for the slopes

It all started off pleasant enough, the four of us making our way to the lift. Lifts and I historically haven’t worked well together the five or so times I’ve skied in my life, and despite my family’s assurances and advice–“lean to the edge of the bench and just stand up, let the seat nudge you off and just slowly ski away from the lift, watch that you don’t let the next lift hit you in the head, you won’t fall”–I fell off the lift in a weird way, way over to the right, a spectacle, really. The toxic cocktail of performance anxiety, coupled with extreme fear can only yield the type of result we got, me, plopped down in the snow before us. 

I made my way down this green slope well enough, forming the slowing pizza shape with my skis and turning this way and that, my glutes, still sleeping, waking with a startle. Next, I took on a second lift, this time with a stranger. Poor thing had to listen to my lift fall story, but she assured me I won’t fall this time. We exited the lift, her sweetly bracing me, and I emerged standing! No sooner did I begin to ski to the left to go down this other green than a man called out to let me know my glove had fallen off the lift below. Making my way down, I soon realized this green slope was far steeper than the previous and any others I’ve ever attempted. My boys and husband were just ahead and said they’d help me down and also would find my glove. Super sweet of them, but for me, the steepness of the slope rendered this impossible. I urged them to just go on and ski on their own, convinced any lessons they had to offer wouldn’t take, and why not release them instead into this sparkling new ski day in lieu of the stress fest that was unfolding? They insisted over and over, but so did I, and they ended up skiing on down. Well aware of my skiing challenges, I initially wasn’t going to go on this trip, but I suppose fear of missing out on this time with my family changed my mind. I didn’t want to slow the group down, though, and also didn’t want to get talked into super scary stuff I wasn’t ready for.

So it was me and the crazy hill, and the only thing I could do that made any sense at all was remove my skis, cradle them under my arm and hoof it down that hill. Mind you, this is Colorado, and these runs are not short, but my legs are long and strong and so we, my legs and me, began walking it. On seeing a lady walking her run, kind skiers stopped and asked me if I was okay and if they could carry my skis down to the Ritz. The Ritz? Evidently this luxury chain was at the base of this run. Along with this daunting task, I didn’t want to relinquish my skis, only to struggle locating them later, and so I continued. Other skiers came by with similar concerns, some having passed me once and now on their second run. I found a few plateaus where I attempted to put on my skis and ski a little so as to shorten this never-ending hike. Remembering the advice of my son, “Make sure the levers in back of the skis are in the up position when you put your boot in,” (advice he would later recant as amiss), I kept trying to get my skis on, but they wouldn’t cooperate–no clicking, no nothing, even after I thoroughly whacked all the snow off my boots with my poles. I continued the sojourn with skis tucked under my left arm, and made my way down to find a hefty timber lodge, branded as a Ritz-Carlton.

Fellas outside the Ritz keepin’ it classy

Everyone was outside in groups cocktail-ing and beer-ing themselves silly. I found a water cooler and paper cups, and filled up a time or two. I assumed my family’s trails, wherever they had taken them on blue or black slopes, would feed into this one and spit them out at the base where I now was. With all that walking, I worked up a sweat, and with temps dropping, I went inside to sit by the fire. I wasn’t of course going to get the $30 chicken Caesar salad or the $20 Prosecco everyone seemed to be ordering without hesitation. I was content to just be inside by a fire, and thankful the server didn’t nudge me to order something. After another 45 minutes or so and with night about to fall, I asked about the shuttle or gondola back to the hotel.

As it turns out, you must ski down to the gondola, surely this was a joke, and the last one was leaving at 5pm, so I needed to get a move on. The guy giving me those directions assured me it was only a “catwalk,” which in ski speak, I think means a meandering, mostly flat trail. In disbelief and feeling deflated, having sworn off skiing for today, this longest of days, I soldiered on toward the trail. A gentleman was heading there, too, and assured me he would help, and so we began. It was lovely and somewhat flat and meandering, just as I’d hoped, and my skis magically popped on and I glided along, thrilled that around each bend I was that much closer to home. The man I was following was a fast skier and I hustled to catch up, flying around a hairpin turn until there before me it appeared, a huge slope down, the man halfway down it waving at me. I approached as far as I could and then came to a halt.

“I can’t do this,” I yelled. Echoing my family from hours earlier, he retorted, “You can!”  After a few more “No, I can’ts” and his same response, he offered to reach for me and take my hand. We both fell and then my skis wouldn’t go on. He began yelling at this point, both of us needing to make the last gondola stop of the day, “Get up,” and try as I might, I just couldn’t, skis crisscrossed underneath me. I urged him to please just ski on and I would be fine, and after much back and forth, he disappeared down the quiet hill leaving me the only person in this stunningly silent winter wonderland.

Once again, I found my poles and removed my skis, clutching them under my left arm and continued down the hill. I found a few plateaus ripe for putting on skis and trying again, but the damn boots wouldn’t click into the skis (that earlier piece of upside-down advice I unfortunately didn’t think to challenge), and so I walked. The very occasional person glided past me, a few of them asking the kind, yet predictable question, “Are you alright? Can I take your skis?” to which I always replied, “No, thanks, I’m good.” More walking and then my phone, now with 5% charge, began pinging, and it was my family texting me. Where are you? Want us to come get you? I wasn’t sure exactly where I was, but I knew it wasn’t much farther until I was at the base by the gondola stop. I noticed a road ahead on my left and a small stone structure, the size of a gate house. Using his Find my Friends app, my son soon located me, and shortly after, Joe called with the instruction, “Stay put, we’re coming to you.” I walked to the road, and within ten minutes, the trusty rented Ford Expedition pulled up. I placed my barely used spoiled, chauffeured skis in back and I climbed in front, the family all there and comfy heat blasting out the vents. 

Suffice it to say, the next day my ribs hurt. A lot. All that ski carrying on the left side had made turning over in bed, coughing, walking, pretty much anything I did, hurt. I took this as a sign to take the day off, and sent my family off into their day of invigorating blue and black runs. Besides, I’d learned our cat back home had escaped, and so I operated cat central from my hotel room, contacting neighbors and family for help. Eventually, I took a gondola to the village where the next day I would resume my skiing, this time at a beginner slope named Buckaroo Bowl, basically, KinderCare goes skiing. I assumed I’d get the typical experience I’d done before, short straight slope down, up with a magic carpet and repeat, however, this run looked different, curiously intriguing even, and tomorrow I’d experience it. For today, I wandered around the village dotted with shops and restaurants and with a lovely skating rink in the center, still on call and worried about the cat. When I least expected it, the text came. My brother-in-law managed to catch him and he was now safe inside. Big e x h a l e.

Who doesn’t love a hot cookie?

As the day was winding down, I made my way down several escalators toward the hotel shuttle stop, and in front of me saw a chef carrying an enormous tray of cookies, surely heading to some catered event. Instead he stopped, and a swarm of people rushed up to him, and he began handing out cookies. I stepped in line and got mine, an enormous, still warm chocolate chip cookie which took many many bites to consume. The cat was back and now this. Heaven. 

Sweet husky in the snow

Day three came, technically day two on the slopes for me, and with slightly healed ribs and sore calves, I climbed into the shuttle toward the slopes. The gondola took me up and I made my way down, sideling up to groups taking lessons and mothers offering little ones advice, absorbing it all, “Push your foot right, left, and turn, turn.” This run was delightful, offering something for everyone, bonafide doable inclines, winding paths and gorgeous scenery. Sweet little animal figurines dotted the path, and around a bend I saw a husky silhouette, which I pretended was my dog Lucie guiding my way, and I whispered, “Hello, sweet girl,” each time I rounded the bend. 

When disembarking the gondola, I decided to put my skis on while standing on the rubber perforated mat, versus doing it in the snow. This way, you don’t have to whack your boots over and over with your poles to get the snow off, and the boots more easily snap into the skis. Heading down the slopes, I discovered the key to success was turning often and not letting the skis face straight down, lest the fear creep back in. The fear was still there, but my turning overcame it, and I gave myself advice as I moved. Push right, push left, turn your toes, pizza brakes, bending my knees, now effortlessly gliding around groups and singles. I did this over and over again and on into day four (my ski day three), and on this day, when the snow began falling, oversized flakes rained down all around me as if I were in the center of a magical snow globe. 

The quiet grace of McCoy Park

Yesterday was the last ski day, and in lieu of taking a shuttle to Vail, we decided to stay put and ski Beaver Creek again. We booted up, and with skis in hand, took the gondola to an area where we took the first of three lifts, which would carry us high up to McCoy Park, a vast isolated and nearly empty of skiers 250-acre ski park, which opened just this year. It was on this first of three lifts where I put into practice the best advice I learned yesterday from an employee here. If you’re one of those who struggles departing ski lifts, as you approach the lift operator at the end of the line, you can wave your hand up and down, palms facing down, indicating a “go slower” movement, much like you get from a lady at her mailbox if you’re driving too fast through her neighborhood, and the lift will slow down to a near stop as you exit. Similar to the satisfaction of pumping your arms up and down so a trucker will see you and honk his horn, this is remarkably empowering and reassuring for us green skiers. 

The boys were faster than Joe and me, and they skied on ahead taking the forest route, cutting through the trees with sharp turns before heading to another slope. Sticking to his promise to hang with me all day today, Joe slowly skied ahead, turning back every now and then to check my progress. The snow continued to fall, and instead of pelting us in the face as it did on the lift, it fell quietly over the thick blanket spread out everywhere. Cutting through this thick snow was like water skiing when you’re cutting through the wake of an inboard motor, and my skies effortlessly plowed the thick fresh powder. The sky was white, the ground was white, and my jacket was white, and without sun and shadows to reveal contour, everything looked rather flat. It was blind trust, the blind following Joe, who did his best to carve out the least steep route.

There was one short crazy steep area, and out of habit, I took my skis off and walked it until I found a landing to regroup and get my skis on. We made it through this run and went for a second, this time taking a different route past stunning snowy trees lined up majestically in this white winter scene. We took the green trails down to Beaver Creek Lodge via the Primrose and Intertwine trails, and I won’t lie, there was another short walking in ski boots stretch for me, my stubbornness holding tight against Joe’s assurances it wasn’t too bad. I know myself, but I also trust him. Still, on the edge of a steep precipice, my brain seeing it as the grinch’s sleigh about to tip over that edge, with the option of walking it vs facing a frightening fall, I’m choosing option #1. We pressed on until the end, signage pointing to the easiest way down, which turned out to be a steep and narrow and icy curvy mess, one we had to walk a short distance. Others behind us also were stunned to find this “easy way down” nearly impossible, and yelled behind them for others to go a different way. Nice to know it wasn’t just me.

We made it down and back to the village where I suggested we treat ourselves to a beer. Inside the Chop House, we scored a window seat, and instead of a draft, opted for bloody Mary’s, tall ones with a spear of those crunchy yummy garnishes you get–dill gherkin sized pickle, pepperoncini, and an olive–and a sprightly tall stalk of celery to stir the whole thing. Joe opted for the candied jalapeno bacon as an additional garnish in his. A lady next to me, also with a bloody Mary, was enjoying a huge bouquet of fries, which I couldn’t stop staring at. Five minutes until the kitchen would be closing, and I caved and ordered some. The seven dollar price tag proved worth it, and soon a basket arrived containing two enormous metal cones each with a splay of french fries, and two metal ramekins of chilled ketchup. As we settled into the hot fries and the cool drink, we both agreed we were done skiing, and we’d hang here leisurely, and take the shuttle back. A vehicle with wheels as the way home versus skiing it. Yippee! 

Can’t say this ski thing has actually taken and it now consistently feels more like pleasure than a somewhat nerve-racking task, but I had some fun with my family, am intact and am still learning. It IS beautiful scenery, and despite my not graduating to blue slopes or even a slew of green ones, I AM making strides. Baby steps folks (literally if you find you can’t handle deep inclines, or your skis won’t go on). 

My buddy, Javi

Our room is cozy and all you need, a bed and a sofa bed for the four of us, a microwave and refrigerator, too. The shower is hot and strong and there is self-serve good coffee downstairs each morning. The lobby is full of twinkly trees, a few two-sided roaring gas fireplaces, and a view of snow-capped Colorado Rocky Mountains in the distance. Dogs are welcome here and roam the hotel, and I find I am petting each one. The guys are having a blast and every day becoming better skiers, and making new memories together.

As for me, I’m fairly certain I will get more gutsy if I get another chance at this nonsense, but for today, I’m proud of my accomplishments. This trip reminded me how I’m risk averse, but that this precious body of mine is strong and capable, and for that I’m grateful. If I can get my mind to trust that people–in this case, my family–have lessons to offer and there’s a good chance I will be safe, I can tackle future outings like a snow plow, pushing aside fear to the edges to explore what can be a wondrous path ahead. 

Covid-19, Grace, Inspiration

Be Like Glenn.

It’s been a week. I’ve had a cold from hell, which I kept thinking could be Covid, because along with the initial sore throat and runny nose and headache, the headaches and the sore throat hung on. Then I got hoarse, really hoarse, like I’ve been a smoker my whole life. In your late 50s with a cold, you no longer emit a sultry voice.  Instead it’s the gravelly middle-aged utterings of someone with thinning skin and hollowed out eyes. Do yourself a favor and if you, too, get laryngitis, don’t google Covid voice, because you’ll swear your voice box has called it quits.

Off to my Covid test.

Obviously with this nasty virus crisscrossing the globe, I got a test. Just a five-minute walk and I was the first appointment of the day. The instruction was to simply spin the swab in your nose several times, nothing too exaggerated or high up your nostril, then swirl it five times in a test tube containing solution. An hour later, an official email and text concurred: I have a cold. 

The cold continued its headache, sore throat and now cough nonsense, peaking with a cough so incessant it required I make a 3am visit to CVS for Delysym, cough drops and Gatorade. There I found one car in the lot and a single employee inside, a nice lady restocking shelves in the brightly lit quiet. Her location? The cough medicine aisle, of course.

I approached her with our new 2022 greeting, “Hi, I’m fully vaxed and tested negative for Covid,” but still, she found another task to occupy her further down the aisle. Can’t say I blame her, with my coughing up a lung behind my KN95 mask with a disposable medical mask over it.

Good and good for you.

“This stuff is flying off the shelves,” she offered, as I hunted for my brand on a lower shelf. I started to get cough drops, too, but the boxes today have so many evil warnings. I wanted to stop coughing and sleep, but geez, at what cost? Found some natural ones instead with honey as the chief of three ingredients. A self-checkout and sweet goodbye from the store clerk, and I was off for home for several hours of sleep before being awakened to banging on the roof.

We’re renovating and after many years of wishing for a new roof, we’re actually getting one, the heavy-duty variety.  Insulated and over that, another layer of wood, and then an ice and water shield before the shingles go on. A kitchen cleanup, coffee, and an hour later, and we had a knock on the door. The contractor had found a squirrel nest with three babies inside. Alive. I checked my usual go-tos for wildlife rescue, and they were full, not answering or didn’t take squirrels. One place gave me the name of a guy I quickly contacted. There are angels among us and this one, named Glenn, a married, middle-aged, mild-mannered squirrel whisperer/rescuer could take them, but the caveat is he’s all the way up in Cumming, an hour away, but agreed to meet me halfway. It was clear he knew this species well, asking questions about their coloring etc., trying to discern their age. Pumping gas, I peered into the box I’d lined with washcloths and saw three adorable tangled hairless grey creatures with bulging closed eyes, pink outstretched arms and sweet little splayed hands.

Snug as a bug in a rug.

Glenn and I met in an empty lot of a closed Bank America, and he joked that this exchange of ours must look like a drug deal. I gratefully turned over the babies to him and he greeted them one by one, assigning each a name with the letter J, like you do hurricanes. Juliana, Jasmine and James, Jasmine later changing to Joey because she was a he. Glenn lovingly lifted the babies from their flea infested nest material and lowered them into a soft magenta blanket he had ready, and off they went. I’ve been getting regular updates and they’re all eating heartily and thriving. Here is Juliana enjoying a meal:

Glenn asked me if I had Covid, and said baby squirrels are quite susceptible to it, and I told him about my negative test. I did a second test two days later, again walking a few doors down for the first morning appointment. This time it was a different woman administering the tests, and I asked her about the best swabbing method.  She suggested big large circles up reasonably high in your nostril, and so that’s what I did. This time I was going to find this evil Covid, which surely was hiding out in the upper walls of my nose. Two hours later, another text and email arrived, and what do you know? I have a cold. 

Smushed Kleenex boxes make the nicest pillows.

With this cold/Covid hyperfocus now off my plate, I could get my cat Louie to the vet to pick up his meds and weigh him. He’s got a growth on his sternum that has fortunately shrunk some from the steroids he’s been on, and we’re hoping our sweet boy has put on weight. He and I were enjoying the sunny day car ride when all of a sudden, I got an urgent light in my dash alerting me that my key is not in the car. Well, the car is either an idiot or morphed into some crazy magical carriage that needs no key. Either way, that ignition was staying on. Pulling over to call the dealer, there was little to offer other than maybe the fob battery they gave me recently was bad. I would need to investigate fobs and ignitions later, but for now pressed on toward the vet when I heard the strangest sound. My typically quiet car rider, Louie, decided he would vomit, not once but twice, so we pulled over again to clean up. Always carry trash bags and paper towels in your car. Despite the barfing, Louie had still gained a pound. A big deal. 

Back home to find the upstairs bathroom ceiling now gone, I looked up at the sunshine spilling over the fixtures now smeared with dust, the already cracked sink now chipped and containing ceiling chunks. Just this morning, I’d gone in to brush my teeth in this very space before a clean sink and mirror, and it seems a hurricane tore through it while Louie and I were away. 

With no upstairs bathroom for who knows how long, the showerless, dingy downstairs bath was up to bat. I went to clean off those fixtures and noticed the sink was slow to drain, the tub too. We’ve had some tree root problems in the past, and know we need to replace these lines, but first, those roof invoices. No Drano on hand and work assignments to get to, the clog would have to wait, but now with an email from the YMCA alerting us that they had no hot water, even our back up was backed up. So what’s another day?

I think my car fob and cell phone have been teaming up in this week of all weeks because, without notice, the next day my cell phone alerted me it had no Sim card. After failed attempts at resuscitating it, I learned on an AppleCare call the phone needed a network reset, so for now the Sim card has returned from her sojourn and taken her seat. It’s an old girl, 8+, but she’s never pulled this kind of crap before.

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

Anne Lamott
Noelle with previous rescues, and Glenn’s caption, “Every time you try to take a family photo there is always one kid that messes it up.”

Glen and I are now texters, and I get frequent Juliana and Co. updates. She and her brothers are lapping up the formula and now out of Covid confinement, have made the company of other squirrels, one a little younger than them and an adult, Noelle, who will be their foster mom as she has to other littles. Glenn wants Noelle to be the first thing they see when they open their eyes so they can bond with a mama squirrel instead of a human. 

It was at least two days before I could tackle the drains and even think about bathing. I’ve now fluffed up the space with soft things like towels and rugs, and we’ve hauled in our toiletries from upstairs. I drew a bath last night and enjoyed a soak with my Spotify ‘quiet songs’ list going. It was lovely and I let the music carry me somewhere else. After three or so songs came Yo-Yo Ma performing Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major. I put my head back against the edge of this old claw foot, and sunk lower in the warm water. Then out of nowhere everything went dark, lights out, the room somehow even more spectacularly full of dreamy, crisp cello notes.  Our new electrical panel is in place, but maybe we have too many dehumidifiers (from our recent pre-roof tarp times) on one circuit?  I don’t know, but if you find yourself suddenly in darkness while taking a soak, this is your music. It was perfect, enchanting, even.  Believe me, as I’ve never before used that word. 

All is right in the world. I got a bath, Louie is eating, we’ve a roof overhead, and three squirrel babies have checked into the Ritz-Carlton.