Kitty Coexistence

The first order of business after I roll out of bed in the morning is to brew a pot of strong green tea. The very next thing: feed the cats.

As I peel the lid off a can of Friskies, Odie rubs my ankles then jumps from floor to counter in one effortless leap. Apparently, he needs to ensure I’m apportioning the food fairly.

Orange Cat

Orange Cat (Photo credit: gamillos)

“Not for kitties,” I say, meaning my sparkling black granite countertop, and set him back down on the floor.

I don’t have that issue with Saffron – he can barely walk, let alone leap. And, he’s shut up in the office like a crotchety old grandpa in the attic. This is for his own protection, and by his own choice I must add, lest you think I am keeping him prisoner.

Once Odie’s been fed in the kitchen, I carry the can of food into Saffron. He sits six inches from the door looking at me adoringly. It’s mainly the food, of course, but Saffie has an uncanny knack for purring loudly the moment I enter the  room. It’s heartwarming.

“Good morning, handsome boy,” I say. “Here’s your breakfast.”

He limps over to his dish and hovers at my feet, gobbling the food like a homeless man at a soup kitchen – ravenous.

When I open the door to return to the kitchen, Odie dashes past me into the office. Oh, oh! In the weeks they’ve been together, these two have done little but snarl at each other. I hold my breath.

To my surprise, Odie approaches Saffron respectfully and the two touch noses. For several minutes they stand nose to nose sniffing each other. Saffron quickly loses interest and hobbles off. Undeterred by the snub, Odie follows.

Regal and disinterested, Saffie sits like a British gentleman looking down his nose over his newspaper at one of the younger, friskier club members.

“You boys be nice,” I say.

Low, threatening growls emanate from Saffron. Odie refuses to take the hint and playfully jumps at Saffie who unsheathes his claws and swipes at Odie.

A real cat fight!  Scooping Odie up in my arms, with a cat food can in the other hand, I gingerly open the office door and shut it firmly behind us.

“He doesn’t want to play with you,” I say.

But that seems too cold, so I try to distract Odie by throwing a toy mouse into the center of the living room. He bats at the mouse, tossing it in the air.

I return to the office and try explaining to Saffron that Odie is just a kitten. “He only wants to play,” I say.

I kneel down and begin petting my old guy, telling him how handsome and smart he is. I just wish he would be more patient with Odie. He blinks his yellow eyes at me but makes no commitments about his future behavior.

It doesn’t look like these guys will be friends any time soon. For now, the office door is our Maginot line, at least until such time as peace breaks out.

Why I Love Thanksgiving

Gratitude Journal

Gratitude Journal (Photo credit: limevelyn)

Let me count the ways. In reverse order of importance, they are:

5. The Food. OMG. My friend Karen Hester makes the most amazing pies, including a crumbly topped apple pie and yummy pumpkin with whipped cream. This year, I made a yam,  pineapple, and apple casserole. Simple, but utterly delicious. Karen hosted us for potluck dinner at her house – omniivores and vegetarians happily comingled to eat stuffed squash with rice and tofu or turkey and all the trimmings, depending on your preference. Delish!

4. The Beauty. The day was gorgeous: sunny, in the high sixties with a crystalline blue sky. We hiked in Redwood Regional Park for two hours and saw gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay to the west and Mt. Diablo to the east. Along the trail we encountered a happy melange of dogs, kids (including babies in front packs and in strollers), and even bumped into a few friends of friends along the way. We walked beneath towering redwoods and giant eucalyptus trees, redolent with fragrance. Food for the soul.

Redwood trees on the Golden Spike Trail

Redwood trees on the Golden Spike Trail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. The Company. This year, I was with my “chosen family,” Karen’s tribe of women friends, some of whom I only see at the annual Thanksgiving feast. It’s good to hear people’s stories of the past year, their successes, their losses, their plans and dreams. It’s a kind of shapeshifting oral history we share that enlivens the day. We played Charades after dinner, acting out books, movies, and songs and one of the kids in attendance entertained us with a performance on her flute. At dinner we all went around and shared what we’re thankful for – always an inspiring and moving exercise in gratitude.

2. The Family. Some years, I spend the day with extended family. The Jones clan is big and boisterous with three generations coming together, including the ex-spouses, kids, and grandkids. This year, my granddaughter Lucia’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving. At three, Lucia is a bubbly, funny, and often challenging girl with a mind of her own. I hosted a birthday party for her last weekend, and now it was her grandpa Ron’s turn to celebrate the holiday and Lu’s birthday with family and friends. Even when we’re not together, family is in my heart. The Vincent family is spread all other the country and the globe now – Germany, New Jersey, Massachusetts, suburban Washington, DC, and Ohio. Each one was in my thoughts. And, of course, our beloved Maya, her stepbrother Mark, and her cousin Eric, all of whom left the planet way too soon. I give thanks for their lives and send them love each day, but on Thanksgiving I can share with others how grateful I am to have had Maya for almost 20 years.

Family permeates our lives. I thought of my two grandmothers. Eleanor, who taught me how to make gravy which I did yesterday at Karen’s gathering. And Pearl, my father’s mother, who made the best lemon chiffon pie ever and taught me how to sing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Zippety-do-dah,” which I now sing to Lucia. We pass along these family traditions and on Thanksgiving I become so aware of these influences and so grateful for them.

1. The Gratitude. I practice gratitude each day, often writing in a gratitude journal. On Thanksgiving, being thankful becomes a public ritual, shared by family and friends. Gratitude puts everything in perspective. It doesn’t mean ignoring the sad or difficult parts of life. It’s a means of balancing the scales. Death and life. Pain and joy. Loneliness and togetherness. On Thanksgiving, we celebrate the experience of being human. There are no presents, and little pressure, only the sharing of food and conversation. Gratitude makes me happy and so thankful for all of life.

What are you grateful for this holiday season? Do you keep a gratitude journal? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Money, Honey


Odie (Photo credit: kmaraj)

Have I mentioned how expensive my cats are?

“I’m putting two cats through college,” I tell friends, when I explain why I can’t afford to go out to dinner. They nod sympathetically, but really as anyone who watches You Tube knows, Maru, the Japanese wonder cat has to work for a living.

Saffron and Odie just lie around looking adorable. Well, Odie looks adorable. Saffron looks melancholy and dignified, as befits his advanced age.

One friend has suggested I start a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for their care.

One of my neighbors, God love him, routinely shows up with cans of food. Josef is a softhearted Hungarian who is in love with a dog named Margie that he takes care of at the local animal shelter.

Every few days I’ll come home to find some new obscure brand of cat food in a neat stack outside my door. Or, Josef will call and ask to come over. The moment he comes through the front door he croons, “Here, baby.” Not to me – to the cats.

He scratches Odie’s ears and rubs his tummy. If he can coax Saffron out from under the desk, he’ll pat his head and whisper sweet nothings. And he’ll put more cans of food into my outstretched hands.

The litter, alone, has jacked up my grocery bills. Not to mention more toys for Odie to assuage my guilt over disrupting his happy little conflict-free paradise, and keeping both boys in Greenies and dry food. Thank goodness they drink tap water!

Seriously, I had two huge vet bills on my October MasterCard statement. I’m working to support Odie and Saffie now. Retirement? Ha! We’re living on kitty love over here, and the charity of neighbors and friends.

But in the spirit of our impending Thanksgiving celebration, let me say how grateful I am for Odie and Saffron. Watching Saffron improve with the medication he’s taking and flourish with the love he’s getting is deeply satisfying. And Odie keeps me laughing with his antics. He is sitting beside me now purring. My boys are good companions and I’m thankful.

Gratitude: A Guest Post by Madeline Sharples

I first met Madeline Sharples at a writing workshop at Esalen. I was immediately drawn to her calm, empathetic manner, her beauty, and her poems. We quickly learned that we shared some important life experiences – we were both grieving mothers and both of us were writing about our children.

Madeline’s memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, first appeared in hardback in 2010. It was recently reissued as an e-book and paperback by Dream of Things, a small press based near Chicago. Madeline is a tireless online journalist and blogger, and focuses her energies on raising awareness of mental illness and speaking out to prevent suicide. She is currently on a blog tour to promote her book and I am so pleased to host her reflections on gratitude.


by Madeline Sharples

The holiday season has begun and once again I view it as bittersweet. The holidays bring up too many reminders of my son Paul who died just three months shy of his 28th birthday in 1999. Since Paul was born on New Year’s Eve in 1971, the holidays are difficult for our family.

I also view the holiday season with gratitude. Besides my continued good health, the love and support of so many family members and friends, and my ability to live a productive life, that I can even think in terms of being grateful is a miracle. However, as bad as life was after Paul died, and as much as I continue to miss him, I have found out that with such a tragedy come unexpected gifts.

Paul’s death has made me a stronger person, physically and emotionally. It was as if I accomplished getting stronger through brute force. I met and interacted with people who had been through similar experiences; I took writing classes and workshops; I went back to work outside my home with my usual verve to compete on the job and to excel in my work; I embarked on a daily exercise program. I was obsessively persistent in dealing with my grief and becoming a productive person again.

I have reinvented myself as a poet and a creative writer. Four months after Paul died I found that poems just came spontaneously out of my pen. Though I write prose more than poetry, poetry is my love. My poetry writing has become my companion and my savior – something I can turn to at any time, or in any place.

I also wrote my book, Leaving the Hall Light On, with the goal of helping others who have experienced a loss like mine, I have a new writing career as a web journalist, and I’m busy writing a novel. I have been able to fulfill my life-long dream to work as a writer.

My husband and I have a stronger marriage probably because of a combination of my drive to deal with the pain, suffering, and loss, and Bob’s willingness to wait until I got better. We realized early on that our grieving processes were different, so we were patient, we gave each other a lot of space, and we respected each other. We supported each other so that we could grieve in our own ways. Plus, we’ve worked hard to stay healthy so that we can still travel and enjoy many diversions such as movies, theater, and opera and long walks at the beach near our home.

I have a terrific bond with my surviving son Ben and his new wife. Yes, I’m proud to say I’m a new mother-in-law. My son and his wife live close by and we spend quite a bit of time with them. That he and Marissa wanted to have their wedding in our family home meant so much to me. That created a very special bond between us and provided a very happy memory to replace the bad memories of the past years.

I’ve also embarked on a new mission in life – to erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide, in hopes of saving lives through my writing and volunteer work. My next project is to offer the wonderful jazz music our son composed and performed as a CD to raise money for charities that share my mission. In this way, I’ll be able to perpetuate his memory and hopefully save the lives of people who suffer as Paul did.

With patience and hard work, I discovered I could go beyond surviving and actually thrive – and so these bittersweet holidays also fill my heart with gratitude that I have gone on to be a writer, a mother and wife, and a survivor.

Vet Visit

I am one of the most over insured people on the planet, believing that if something can go wrong, it will. So after I got Saffron settled in my home office, I called the 800 number for Veterinary Pet Insurance. VPI had previously insured my cats with policies I canceled after Saffie ran away and Oliver died.

“Something unbelievable has happened,” I told the service representative.

“Wow,” she said, when I explained the situation, “That is unbelievable.”

She cheerfully signed him up again, with a long list of exclusions for preexisting conditions. I added the preventive care rider, figuring at least his vaccines and annual checkups would be covered.

Then I called my vet to make an appointment for both cats. Monday morning I brought out the two cat carriers, sprinkled them liberally with Greenies, and left them open for the cats to explore while I was at work.

That evening, I loaded both boys into their separate carriers and lugged them to the car. Perhaps the shared trauma of a vet visit might bring them closer.

It was mayhem at the vet’s when we checked in. Barking dogs. Snarling cats. Runaway rabbits. Saffron and Odie peered from the bars of their respective carriers with eyes reflecting their different life stages and personalities.

Odie was wide-eyed, taking in everything, seemingly eager to join in the fun. Saffron, older and more jaded, narrowed his pupils to pinpoints, his steely gaze warning off fellow creatures, be they feline, canine, or human. When a yippy dog peed on the floor two feet from my boys, Saffron gave a dismissive sniff. Odie, for the briefest of moments, appeared to break into a grin.

At last, the tech called us into an exam room. Festooned with tattoos on both arms and wooden discs the size of quarters in his ears, he lifted Saffron gingerly from the carrier. I set Odie’s carrier down on a nearby bench and turned my attention to the prodigal son. The tech set him on the scale. He weighed in just over seven pounds – less than the average newborn baby. After taking Saffron’s temperature, the tech said Dr. Bynum would be in shortly.

I stroked his head as he sat patiently on the cold metal table. I could feel each knob of his spine through his coat.

When Dr. Bynum came in, I told her our amazing tale.

Unbelievable,” she said. “I’ve heard of cats coming back after a year. But six years? Unheard of. You could do an ad for the pet retrieval service.”

“I could,” I agreed, quickly switching gears. “Can you give him a bath?”

She shook her head. She was already listening to his heart with her stethoscope and palpating his various organs through his filthy coat.

“In his condition, a bath could kill him,” she said. “But we can clean his ears and give him a nail trim.”

The last thing I wanted to do was kill him. He had no life insurance, and, heck, I just got him back. I agreed to the grooming services instead.

She stroked Saffron’s head, still examining him, and crooned, “What a handsome boy.”

I love Dr. Bynum. She called Oliver handsome the night she put him down. The memory of my beloved Oliver sitting up ramrod straight and unafraid – so frail he could no longer stand – almost made me shed a tear.

Dr. Bynum put her stethoscope in her pocket. “He’s a lucky boy,” she said. “He came home in the nick of time.”

She explained that Saffron’s heart rate was elevated and that he had hyperthyroidism which, if left untreated, would cause his heart to fail. It explained why he was gobbling food and drinking vast quantities of water – and pooping and peeing in equal quantities. I could barely keep up with the litter box despite twice daily cleanings.

She recommended putting him on oral medication and returning in two weeks for another series of blood tests. Ka-ching, ka-ching. He would need to take the medication for the rest of his life, she said.

She sent Saffie off with the tech for his nail trim and ear cleaning and turned her attention to Odie. This was his first vet visit and he was none too pleased with having a thermometer jammed into his butt. But she stroked his head and told him he was a handsome boy too. He fell for her charms and settled down for his exam.

At last, the tech returned with Saffron and I loaded both cats back into their carriers. When I went to the counter to pay the bill, the cashier looked at me sympathetically.

The bill was more than my last Macy’s statement. I could have purchased a fetching little black dress and a nice pair of shoes for what I was spending on my cats.

I handed over my credit card with an imperceptible sigh. Oh well. Possibly with Dr. Bynum’s help I could nurse Saffron back to health. Odie was the picture of a healthy roly-poly orange tabby and wouldn’t need to come back for another year.

I trundled off to the car with my boys. Once home, they hissed at each other and then went to their separate quarters. So much for my theory of traumatic bonding. We had survived our first vet visit but the great standoff continued.