BlackJack

IMG_0218

 

Today I said goodbye to my longtime feline companion, BlackJack, who slipped quietly into his next adventure. Needless to say, I will miss his energy, loving nature and friendly personality. As everyone who met him knew, BlackJack was a character who, at a muscular eighteen pounds, looked and moved as gracefully as a panther, acted and cuddled like a dog, but at the end of the day, he was a cat and he owned me. Especially my heart.

YouTube, CoolTube

IMG_0736A few months back, I finally joined the Lady 9ers, as in golf and not the 49er football team.  It took me a while to figure out that probably half, if not more, of the ladies are neither very good golfers nor especially athletic, and are out there for a good time.  Admittedly, we all do have a good time, laughing at our shots and scores, enjoying each other’s company and the lunches that follow our Tuesday morning games.

I’m still working on getting a handicap as I am a fair weather golfer, which means I don’t play if it’s too hot or too cold.  Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the weather has to be just right, which is asking a lot of the Sierra foothills.  It may be years before I actually accumulate ten completed scorecards within a twelve month period so I am truly legitimate.  I keep telling the powers-that-be to just give me a handicap in the neighborhood of 2,358, but evidently the highest I can get is 36.  Like that will help.

I don’t feel especially bad about my lack of golfing skills as I am passably good at a couple other things, so when an email came out asking for support for an upcoming Team Play, I volunteered for table decorations.  I have my mother’s gene; I decorate in my dreams.  A dear friend once told me You are the only person I know who can grab a old scorched pot out of a cabinet, toss a few twigs into it and have a stunning table centerpiece.  If I tried that, it’d look like a burnt pot with dead branches. In all fairness to the pot, it was a scorched antique copper pot.

Regardless, the 9ers’ team leader grabbed me and a fellow-creative-golfer-volunteer, and took us to the decorations shed that held — well, being very kind — dusty, bug infested decorations that had seen better days.  And those days were no doubt decades ago.  Then she announced, No budget and we don’t know how many attendees so we don’t know how many tables.  Co-decorator and I looked at one another and in unison said No problem.  We are both retired teachers.

Any educator will understand that dark humor.  Most years, we had no clue which classes we were going to teach, much less how many students might show up or if we’d have sufficient desks for said students. 

I remember one year when our department chair announced we actually had a budget, a real live budget.  Holy mackerel!  Then we found out each of us were getting $50.  That was fifty dollars for 150 students for the entire year.  Sigh. 

Given that background, no budget for decorations?  No sweat…a little of this, a little of that, a little hot glue, and the decorations turned out cheery and colorful.  So good in fact, that one of the officers called me shortly thereafter.

Do you sew?

I quilt. 

In my mind, there’s a world of difference. A seamstress intuitively knows how to mend a torn hem.  I reach for the duct tape.

But I do have a sewing machine and I do know how to turn it on, which meant I was qualified to be drafted for a new 9er project:  Cool Tubes to wrap around our necks and keep us cool while playing at golf.  uh huh.

She sent me a link to a YouTube demonstration.  Not so difficult. 

I called her back. 

I can handle this.

Do you have fabric?  We have no budget.

Yep, I have tons of fabric. No problem there.  um, how many do you need?

Fifty two.

oh.

Fifty-two tubes, 4 1/2 inches by 43 inches, right sides stitched together and then turned right-side out.  If you ever want to keep younger ones busy and frustrated, give them a few long skinny tubes and have them figure out how to turn the suckers right side out.  (if anyone is really desperate to know, I’ll share). 

Each tube then gets stitched into four segments, with each of those getting a quarter teaspoon of water absorbing polymer crystals, many of which evidently did not want to end up hanging around someone’s neck in a cool tube.  They are all over my quilting room carpet, just waiting for a bit of water so they can plump up and keep my toes cool.

At any rate, the 52 Cool Tubes are now completed and look pretty good for a non-seamstress.

Just don’t say anything, because she’s using these to surprise the members at some event or another down the road…

Regardless, I can get back to the fun stuff.  Like quilting. Bridge. And maybe a little golf if the weather cooperates.

 

 

The Cat with Nine Lives

IMG_0050 (2)I’ve always had dogs until I inherited my daughter’s cat and that cat got cancer so it was an obvious call when to end things.

Then there is BlackJack.  By my count, even at nineteen years old, he still has five or six lives left in him and  apparently he is determined to use as many as possible before going on to Kitty Heaven.

When he was a youngster, BlackJack was either abandoned or an abused runaway in Berkeley California.  A young couple figured out he was hungry and took him in.

They said the cat was so well behaved.  He never jumped on furniture, was polite to their two other cats and ate whatever they gave him.  But, they soon realized that three cats was one too many.

He came to me and it didn’t take long for the two of us to bond. BlackJack quickly abandoned all pretense of enjoying life on the floor and took up residence on beds, couches or laps.

From tangling with a large bobcat and surviving to getting locked in his nemesis Buster’s basement for a few days, BlackJack has had his share of adventures and used up a few of his nine lives.

A couple weeks ago, we began the new Adventure of Are We Dying or Are We Not?  It has been an emotional roller-coaster, not only for me but for my friends who have cried along with me over the losses of their cats and dogs.

This morning, at my wit’s end and not sure of which way to turn, I took him to a vet who had been recommended by a friend.

Both the vet and I had a list of questions, most of which were unanswerable.

Q:  I don’t know cats, other than BlackJack.  How old do cats live?

A:  oh, hard to tell….most live to 13.  The oldest I’ve seen in here, until today, was 18 and she was in really bad shape. Hello BlackJack, what a beautiful silky coat…

And, so it went, back and forth, with lots of guesswork and I don’t knows.  The only obvious concern was to get him re-hydrated and that was an easy fix. The vet and I finally opted to go over a list of tests, select the ones for which there were easy remedies, and then decide on a course of action once we had some information.  BlackJack was far more interested in checking out the nooks and crannies in the room.

The vet called a bit later.  The cat is perfectly healthy. He’s healthier than I am. 

So, for the time being, things are going to return to more or less normal.  The only Rx is to keep him hydrated and take him for a couple of car rides every week.

 

 

The American Way of Dying, Part II

Back in ancient times, the early 1960’s, a woman named Jessica Mitford wrote a stinging exposé of the funeral industry, The American Way of Dying.  The book outed the high cost of unnecessary funeral expenses and created quite an uproar,  to say the least.

Mitford found that directors preyed on grieving family members, using unscrupulous business practices to charge far more than necessary for services and caskets.  In other words, beyond dying, death had become overly commercialized and extremely expensive.

That was long before the advent of Pet Funeral Homes.  Mitford must be turning over in her grave.

In anticipation of BlackJack’s hopefully not too imminent demise, I made a few phone calls to local, ahem, Pet Funeral Homes.

Good grief.

I still remember my first funeral.  I was a young child, in the backyard kneeling with my younger brother by a small hole in the ground that our dad had dug.  Mom had prepared the casket and Dad carefully placed the small matchbox holding our dead goldfish into the hole. We all said our goodbyes and then my brother and I ran off to play.  I suspect Dad later retreived Goldie and flushed her down the toilet before we kids had any thoughts of resurrecting her. 

The last time I had to have a pet put down, admittedly a few years back, the vet handled everything while I wiped my tears and wrote a check.  The amount, as I recall, was around $40 and took care of the cremation and ash scattering at a rural pet cemetery.  It was well worth the cost.

Fast forward, and now the price hovers around $200 for cremation of a pet under 20 lbs., including a rosewood box, urn or scattering.  Funeral service, flowers, casket, interment and headstone are all additional costs.  

Really???  I don’t even want this for myself.

I have to admit that upon hearing the solemn recitation of the options and prices, I blurted out, Good Lord, when my mother died a few years ago, it was half that price for her cremation. 

I’m not always the most politically correct person in the room.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that I do not love BlackJack.  Or my mother.  I do.  I say BlackJack’s been my longest relationship, which is not true, but he’s probably among my most successful ones. That says a lot about the two of us. I am already heartbroken.

But when I think of the options, given the high cost of American Pet Death, I’d rather bury BlackJack under his favorite napping place out back, in an area that is protected by large spreading oaks. He could have fun haunting any golfers we don’t know who venture off the course and into the yard in search of their errant golf balls. 

But, it’s summer with temps around 100 and the ground is rock solid. Chances are that son, son-in-law, and/or grandsons will not be here when the time comes to handle the grave digging duties. 

And I know my limitations, so his ashes will be scattered…all of which means I better have my checkbook ready. 

But, please, please someone intervene if I start talking about where to send flowers, the date and time of a funeral service or if you find a small copper urn on my nightstand.

 

 

 

 

 

Moral Licensing

GladwellEvery once in a while I find an author — a story teller, usually — who can weave a plot in the best possible way.   I never quite know where I’ll end up, and I seldom care, because the journey is always such a delight.

Malcolm Gladwell is one of those writers.  He is a Canadian journalist, author and speaker.  I read his books — The Outliers, David and Goliath, The Tipping Point, as examples — arrive at his conclusions and wonder why didn’t I even consider that?

Probably because my mind doesn’t work in the same way his mind does.

And that’s what makes Gladwell so exceptionally unique.  It’s the Well, of course that inevitably comes at the end of his stories.

Gladwell launched a podcast series a year ago.  I have not embraced the whole podcast “thing” probably because of my background as an English teacher.  I read.  I don’t even like Kindle.  I like holding a book in my hands, turning the pages, and getting lost in the imagery and story line.

But, I made an exception this time.  I like Gladwell and, having heard his voice, knew it is an easy one to listen to.  His voice perfectly complements his story telling.

Revisionist History is both fascinating and thought provoking.  I’m going through them in no particular order and yesterday listened to the first one,  The Lady Vanishes, which was especially well done.  According to some critics, Gladwell may have missed a political mark with an Australian Prime Minister, but I think he hit the bulls eye with his conclusions.

His theory explains a lot, at least to me, about what many of us have been observing, both in this country and worldwide.

I invite you to listen to the podcast (it’s about 40 minutes) and see what you think…

The Lady Vanishes

The Footnote

bookSomewhere this side of a hundred years ago, I was a young college coed doing anything and everything I could to avoid taking a foreign language.  Evidently that gene, the foreign language gene, also skipped my children and grandchildren, all of whom struggled through the minimum number of required foreign language units to graduate from high school and college.

I tried to circumvent the entire issue by changing majors five or six hundred times, although eventually I succumbed to the inevitable and took the mandated two semesters of French, which was essentially the same course I had taken in high school, just at warp speed.

Parlez-vous français?  Anyone?  Anyone?

The upshot, however, was that all my maneuvering to avoid the language requirement meant that I had almost sufficient units to graduate with any combination of four majors:  English, History, Political Science, Philosophy.  While I love them all, I opted for the first two and barely graduated, given the foreign language albatross, with a double major.

I was pretty sure I’d never use philosophy for any credible activity in life, but I was very wrong.  As a young, newly married wife, my now ex, an engineer in both career and mentality, was caught in the same foreign language conundrum, except he had to take an Intro to Philosophy class. 

He came home after the first class, weighted down with volumes of Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer, FORTRAN (remember those days?) and a slim volume of Plato’s Republic.  He could handle the engineering, even the FORTRAN, but write a paper on the Introduction to the Republic? A fate worse than French, evidently.

I jumped on it. I can do this.  I love Plato.  He looked at me like he had just discovered something new and unique about his bride.  It wasn’t a good unique and, in retrospect, probably a precursor of things to come.

Long story short, I threw myself into the paper, analyzing every nuance and waxing and waning Plato.  The soon-to-be ex turned in the paper without a second look and was horrified to later learn that out of the intro class of a few hundred students, he was one of five — count ’em, five — students who were now honor students and would meet individually on a weekly basis with the professor to chat about philosophy.  He did make it through the class, and if I remember correctly, we did get an A.

But I digress.  This is really about a footnote in a college history text.  I recently recalled reading about the horrific journey of a young wife making her way with husband and young children across this nation’s lands to settle in some godforsaken place.

The author had quoted her, no doubt from some long-saved letter to relatives back home. Thank goodness for my quilting. I don’t know how I would have survived without it.

At the time, I remember thinking, good grief, that woman needs a life.

Of course, she had a life, much more challenging than ours, but I just couldn’t get my head around the comment about quilting.  In my mind’s eye, quilting was nothing more than a tedious chore.

I’m here to tell you, I was wrong on that one, too.

There’s the design part of quilting that is so creative, placing and playing with fabrics until the design comes together and dances.  It’s pure magic when that happens, regardless of the century.

And then, once you know where you’re hopefully headed, comes a quiet meditation in sewing the pieces.  The mind quiets and the process that I once thought so tedious is actually a much welcomed escape from this era’s frenetic chaos and threats, perceived or real.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the more things change, the more we stay the same?