calm down. take a breath. repeat.

July 23rd, 2012

there was a king family gathering on mother’s day that i didn’t attend. i already had planned our week-long vacation in grand marais before i even knew there WAS a get-together.

grandma later sent me a message on facebook saying she was sorry she missed me but “will see you soon.” she assured me that taking the trip was the right move: “i would pick grand marais anytime :)” she wrote.

i had no idea the “will see you soon” wouldn’t happen the way either of us intended… or that it would be the last time. ever.

it was that one particular sunday in june when i called my dad to wish him a happy father’s day. he was appreciative, and then his tone turned serious.

“ummm,” he said, “i should probably let you know… your grandma has cancer.”

uhhhh, WHAT?!?!?!

and time stood still as my brain tried to wrap itself around what i’d just heard: how? …will she…? …when…? … can i…? …but…

he went on to tell me that she had been lethargic for a while and finally went to see a doctor. after some testing, they gave her a blood transfusion and discovered spots on her liver that were thought to be cancer. but apparently if there are spots on the liver, it means there’s cancer somewhere ELSE.

is there no such thing as liver cancer? (shrugged shoulders, head shaking, brow furled)

for the enthusiasm with which that phone call started out, it went straight down the toilet in a big damn hurry.

the doctors said “two years.”

are you shitting me?? that’s, like, 730 days. that’s not enough time.

grandma had surgery for what was determined to be colon cancer, and she was expected to transfer to a nursing home where she’d undergo treatment and eventually be strong enough to return home. at that point, my dad said we’d go up and have pizza with her and visit.

yeah, she’d like that. and so would i.

about a week after the surgery, my cousin molly updated her status on facebook indicating grandma’s “…kidneys are starting to fail and she has only days.”

wait, WHAT?!?!?!?!?

and panic set in. i sent text after text after text to my dad, trying to figure out what was going on. i told him, “i want to go see her NOW!”

my dad called me at work a few hours later and said, “if you’re planning to go see your grandma, don’t wait too long.” wow.

my heart completely fell out of my chest.

she’d gotten an infection from the surgery, and… it was killing her.

i sent an email to my co-workers, not asking if it was okay that i not be at work the next day but rather TELLING them i wouldn’t be there. i told them i was going to say goodbye to my grandma.


i also pleaded with them to only reply via email and to not come to my desk; i had tears in my eyes just typing the message and couldn’t imagine facing anyone at that time.

and in the back of my mind i kept thinking that time was running out.

my brother john and i left tuesday morning around 10 a.m. for the hour-long drive north to the hospital in brainerd. my uncle scott had sent me a text with the room number and a disclaimer: “so you are prepared, she doesn’t look like how you remember her.”

THIS is how i remember her…


THAT scared me… because it made the situation real.

on the drive up, john and i shared a common implausibility regarding the events that were about to take place on THIS day.

and we shared stories about grandma:

we had gone to see ‘the karate kid II’ with grandma in 1986 and walked through the wendy’s drive-thru after the movie so we could get milk for our cereal in the morning. we stayed overnight at grandma’s condo in edina, and she let us wear her kimono robes because we thought they were cool after seeing that movie. and ANY time i hear peter cetera’s “glory of love,” i think of that movie and this very memory.

i planned my wedding around grandma’s schedule to head south for the winter. i wanted her to be there to help celebrate my day, and she was. and two days later she and her husband terry left for arizona… for almost eight months.

me and grandma at my wedding reception, oct. 10, 2009


john and i drove past camp ripley and remembered driving this same route with grandma decades before. we had stopped back then to take pictures on the tank just outside camp ripley. grandma had a polaroid camera, and while john and i stood next to the tank, grandma took a picture… but she cut off the Y, so it looked like we were on a tank at “camp riple.” and from that day forward, camp ripley has been known to us as camp riple. we’re the only ones who get it, but that’s kind of the point.

i remembered having to lie down in the back seat of her sports car (yeah, she was one of THOSE grandmas) because there wasn’t enough room to sit up. we drove to her parents’ home in cass lake to spend the weekend. there wasn’t much for us to do there as kids, but we didn’t realize at the time it would be one of the more personal memories we’d ever have of grandma. she bought us archie comic books at the grocery store, and we’d read those at night before going to bed.

john told me that she’d once given him a typewriter that was more like an early word processor; he said he “programmed that thing until it ran out of memory.” sounds like John.

grandma and i used to email each other all the time when she was in arizona. she’d tell me what the temperature was like, that she was going for walks in the mornings, that she was volunteering for this or that, what books she was reading, the friends she was spending time with. i’m going to miss those emails. i may have to go back and reread them just to feel normal.

she took me to the renaissance festival for the first time in 1985. i really only remember seeing a jousting competition, and i remember there being a lot of mud. and i think it was raining.

my souvenir from the 1985 mn renaissance festival. thanks, grandma!


she listened to sade a lot in the car. every time for the past three decades when john and i have heard “smooth operator,” we think of grandma. and we’ll continue to do so.

we watched the 1985 super bowl at her place. our dad was rooting for the patriots, so naturally john and i were pulling for the bears. remember the super bowl shuffle? tragic. anyway, my dad was decked out in a patriots shirt, so my grandma had gotten bears t-shirts for john and me in an effort to make our rebellion against our dad carry a little more weight. and if I recall, “we” won. BIG.

there was a song grandma would sing that would make us laugh. all i remember of it was, “your sister rose is dead.” odd. and I don’t know WHY we thought it was so funny, but… whatever.

and ALL of these memories were followed with a shake of the head, because we realized we wouldn’t have new memories to accompany these; these memories would be her legacy.

we got to brainerd just after 11 a.m., and i took a DEEP breath before getting out of the car to go into the hospital… up the stairs… to the ICU on the third floor.



i saw my aunt kim standing outside the room, and the look on her face was… morbid. i don’t know what i was expecting, and i don’t think i was prepared for any of this.

i walked into room 3108 and saw grandma… not looking at all like grandma. her skin was yellowing from her failing liver. she looked weak. she couldn’t talk. she was in obvious pain.

she was dying.

i went to her bedside and grabbed her hand and quietly said, “hi, grandma.” scott told her john and i were there, and i THINK she understood, though i can’t say for sure.

she looked at me, but it wasn’t her behind those eyes. she almost seemed to be looking right through me, and i didn’t know what to do or say. so i just stood there, holding her hand.

we were informed that she likely would pass that day. the obviousness of that news didn’t make the realization of it any easier. she can’t go. she CAN’T!

while waiting for the rest of the family to show up, the four of us just kind of sat in that hospital room. we didn’t talk much. we skimmed through a pamphlet on the journey toward ‘the other side.’ i mostly watched grandma and tried to understand why she was being taken away.

the emotional releases would come in waves. i’d be fine for a few minutes, and then i’d look at grandma and my heart would hurt, and i’d start crying. calm down. take a breath. repeat.

i suppose that’s normal. i’m not sure. i had never before watched someone die.

the nurse kept coming in to check the vital stats on the monitor above grandma’s bed. none of us had any idea what any of them meant, but we’d hold our collective breath when the numbers would start flashing. or drop.

and the nurse kept asking if there was anyone else who should be called. i just wanted to stop hearing that; it made the fact that grandma was going to be gone soon all the more real. and i NEEDED to put it off for as long as i could.

grandma started to become even more unaware, and the nurse said aside from being receptive to the pain in her abdomen, grandma was pretty much in a coma-like state.

the chaplain came in and did… whatever it is that chaplains do. the vitals kept fluctuating and dropping. the rest of the family had yet to arrive.

around 12:45 p.m. i sent my dad a simple text: “HURRY!”

my sister called me from my dad’s phone. he had gone to pick her up from work before heading to the hospital, and they still were at least at hour away. after everything i’d witnessed and heard i wasn’t sure grandma HAD an hour, but i couldn’t talk to tell her that. anything more than grunted responses would end up coming out as incomprehensible babbling accompanied by loud sobs and hyperventilation — y’know, a complete emotional breakdown. so i stuck with the grunts.

my dad got on the phone and said, “it’s bad, huh?”


i could only utter “uh huh,” through involuntary sniffles and failed attempts at wiping away tears. he said, “well, i’m glad at least you and john can be there with her.”

i went back and stood at grandma’s side, holding and rubbing her hand and again riding the emotional roller-coaster. someone got me a chair so i could just sit with her… and watch her… and think about everything we’ve done together… and her laugh… and how she always had the sweetest demeanor when she’d discuss the things about which she was passionate.

and i’d glance up at the monitor and once again see the numbers dropping…

i’d occasionally squeeze her hand, so she’d know i was there with her. and i’d think about how i never got to go and see her in arizona, and i never got to tell her things i wanted to… how i was glad that we finally were able to reconnect after years of kind of avoiding each other because of some unspoken rift that eventually mended itself.

the family started to show up in stretched out surges: my aunt liz and cousin bobby around 1:30 p.m.; cousins chris and molly, along with chris’s girlfriend nicole, about 15 minutes later; my dad and sister just before 2 p.m.

grandma’s vitals continued to decline. and even with all of that, it was still unfathomable that she was leaving.  it wasn’t that long ago that she was fine, lively, smiling, energetic. and now here she was, only weeks and 180 degrees later. and it broke my heart.

i wondered if i was being selfish by continuing to monopolize her right hand and that spot next to her bed. should i move and let someone else sit with her?

scott had her other hand and said he wasn’t moving. fair enough. neither was i.

her vitals continued to drop… and drop, and finally the nurse came in and shut off the monitor. i again kept squeezing grandma’s hand, hoping she’d hold on just a little bit longer. not everyone was there yet, and i didn’t want anyone to miss saying goodbye to her.

my uncle charles and aunt ana caught a flight from georgia that morning, scheduled to land in minneapolis at 10:15 a.m. from there they were planning to drive to the hospital, which was a little more than a three-hour trek. doing the math, they were going to be cutting it damn close.

i watched grandma’s breathing grow more shallow, and it got to a point where i could only see her breathe in. i was SO focused on watching her breathing that nothing else seemed to exist anymore; it was like a movie, where every peripheral thing blurs out completely, and all that remains is that ONE thing… and that was grandma’s mouth, gasping in tiny breaths of life every couple of seconds.

until it didn’t.

i still had her hand in mine as i watched her take her last breath shortly after 2 p.m. i stared at her as my eyes welled up with an insane amount of tears. i was numb. i didn’t know what to do. what DO you do?

i kissed her hand and told her i loved her, and then i left her side. and no one said a word.

charles finally came around the corner into the room literally seconds after grandma died. he crawled onto the bed with her and hugged her and sobbed. and that made me cry even more.

the family had a quick, small meeting and determined grandma would be cremated and that we would have a memorial service for her at a later date, probably mother’s day 2013. we tentatively planned to place her ashes in lake superior in grand marais, just like we’d done for my grandpa on father’s day 2007.

the few hours of that day i waited with grandma until she moved onto the next phase seemed like an eternity. i cried so much my head and heart ached, and my face was puffy. but more than that, i just missed my grandma.

and i still miss her. and i’m going to miss her every day. and i wish now that i had spent more time with her and that i had told her more often that i love her.

but she knows.

i had brought with me that day a picture from 1984 of grandma and me on christmas day. i found it in an old photo album just before john and i left to go to the hospital. i had planned on giving it to her. instead i set it on her body before i left the hospital, and i asked the nurse to please make sure the funeral home took the photo with grandma’s body, so she’ll always have it with her.

grandma and me, christmas day 1984. this is the photo she will have with her… always.

memorial stone 2

i made a memorial stone with grandma’s image and quoting the last message she sent me, and i left it in grand marais along the shore of lake superior… since she loved it there


memorial stone 1

on one of our trips back to grand marais in april 2014, the memorial stone was still there. it had faded a little, but it was still there. yay!

the chet chronicles, book two: the not-so-great skunk adventure

April 28th, 2012

Let us recap, shall we?

There was ‘the death march.’

There was ‘the great Chet rescue.’ (if you haven’t already, read ‘the chet chronicles, book one’ below)

There was that wickedly windy night, during which Kirk had to get out of the tent and anchor the stakes because they’d been yanked from the ground by Mother Nature’s force.

There were the bathrooms that were eerily reminiscent of the porta-crappers from “Slumdog Millionaire.”

"slumdog millionaire," anyone??


There was the fact that we had no cell phone service, and no one knew where we were. And this campground had only a handful of people around.

And then there was the pack of wolves we heard howling on the other side of the lake.

Holy. Shit.

After three days of getting our asses kicked on the hiking trails in Canada and considering the aforementioned factors, we started to wonder if maybe we should pack up and head back to MN early. Maybe spend a few more days in Grand Marais before heading home. After all, we were only a week into our two-week vacation.

We visited the campground’s headquarters and inquired about getting a refund; we already had paid for a week of camping. We should have known better.

Good news: we could get a refund for the nights we wouldn’t be staying. Right on.

Initially we were refunded for only three nights, but then I did the math and got the fourth night refunded as well. I think it was something ridiculous like $75 a night to camp there. Seemed steep, but I guess that’s how they roll in Canada.

So now with that stress lifted, we started to plan the rest of our trip… in Grand Marais.

The sun started to set, so we built our last camp fire in Canada and began rounding up our stuff. We had grilled cheese sammiches, made with this awesome cooking iron: you just throw two pieces of bread around a slice of cheese, slam it into this hinged, cast iron contraption and shove it in the fire. Two minutes later, dinner. GENIUS!

mmmmm, grilled cheese sammiches!


And Kirk set up the camera and tripod to take pictures of the stars. We had borrowed his dad’s camera, and on it Kirk found a sweet “starry night” setting that would leave the aperture open long enough to take pictures of the sky in minimal-to-no light.

can you see the big dipper?


I sat by the fire trying to stay warm. Remember, this was October, and evening temps hovered at or just below freezing. Brrrr.

cozy fire


Chet was at my feet… until Hairy scampered off. Chet soon followed…

There was some rustling.

I wondered what had the dogs so frantic, so I turned on my headlamp to see where they’d gone. Away from the fire, it was black as pitch.

The dogs were at the edge of our campsite, trailing behind what appeared to be a cat. A REALLY fluffy cat. With short legs.

And then I realized that was no cat. THAT was a skunk.  Fuck my life.

And since dogs greet their own kind as well as other species with a sniff of the ass, I knew those dogs (and we) were screwed. I closed my eyes and shook my head. I mean… at that point, what else does one do?

I hollered to Kirk that the dogs were chasing a skunk, and I don’t know if he either didn’t believe me or was hoping I was joking. I wasn’t.

Hairy came back by the fire and was hacking; he’d gotten sprayed right in the face. I thought maybe Chet hadn’t gotten sprayed at all, until he too came back and… yeah, he reeked.

We tried to keep the dogs as far away from us as possible. Figured we didn’t ALL need to smell like ass.

Kirk and I sat in the dark in disbelief, trying to figure out what to do now that the damage had been done. Then we remembered: Kirk’s mom had sent along ‘odor mute’ for our trip. She had gotten some for her dog after he chased a skunk in the woods near their home, and she told us we should bring some ‘just in case,’ as she scooped a cup or two into a Zip-lock bag. We thought she was crazy, but we humored her and packed it anyway. Salvation!?

I climbed into the back of the truck and ripped off the top of the tote that had our dry supplies in it. And there it was: the Tupperware dish containing the baggie of powdery substance that would hopefully preserve our olfactory senses.

Kirk walked with the dogs toward the showers. The showers there were individual stalls, each with its own locking door. They had buttons for the water; you’d push the button, and the water would come on. For exactly 10 seconds. Ever tried taking a shower when you have to continually push a button JUST to get the soap out of your eyes? and the cold outside air is creeping in through the one-inch gap under the door? Not fun.

But it was that or nothing. So we took that.

I drove the truck SLOWLY in front of Kirk and the dogs to light the way. Keep in mind, it was probably 10:30 p.m. at this point.

Once we got to the showers, Kirk took both dogs and the odor mute into one stall and shut the door. I sat in the truck and waited. And hoped.

Ten minutes later, I saw the door open. I got out of the truck, and Kirk had a wet Chet by the collar. He wanted me to come and smell Chet to see if he still stunk. He did, but it wasn’t as bad.

Back into the shower they went. Hairy was up next.

When Kirk again opened the shower door, Hairy took off… into the black of the night. Turns out because of the situation, Hairy thought he was in trouble… so he ran. He’s quick.

My shoes weren’t even tied, but dammit if I didn’t take off in a dead SPRINT over uneven ground, chasing after Hairy. I knew that if I couldn’t keep up with him… in THIS campground, he’d disappear and we’d maybe never see him again. It was THAT dark. And THAT wide open.

And there was no one around. It was just Hairy and the Canadian woods… and me chasing after him, yelling for him to come back, my headlamp making the light in front of me bob up and down on the ground with each frantic, bumpy stride.

It was probably ¾ of a mile before I caught up with Hairy. I didn’t care what he smelled like; I grabbed his collar and walked back with him to the showers. Damn dog. But I was SO glad to have him back.

Back at the showers, Kirk washed each dog one last time with the odor mute, and then he took a shower himself. The dogs hung out in empty shower stalls while Kirk showered.

We had so much stuff in the back of the truck there wasn’t much room to put the dogs; up to this point we just had them in the back seat of the cab. But now they stunk. Like skunk.

cozy in the cab, PRE-skunk


Kirk put the dogs in the back of the truck with our camping gear and we drove back to the campsite. We wondered if we should have the dogs sleep in the truck, but it was cold. What to do? What to do?…

We got back to the campsite, and there was a fucking FOX eating out of the dog dish next to the picnic table. Seriously?!?! It was like freakin’ wild kingdom here!

Considering the skunk… and the fox… and the wolves we heard on the other side of the lake, we decided we wanted the dogs IN the tent with us no matter what. They each had a bed, and we closed the partition in the middle of the tent and opened the flaps for the windows on the side where the dogs were, hoping to air out their fur a bit more.

chet's bed


We’d had Hairy shaved a few months before the trip, but his fur hadn’t fully grown back yet. And he looked ridiculous. Since he was still damp from the odor mute shower and was practically bald, we didn’t want him getting too cold, so we threw a comforter over him to keep him warm as he slept.

pfffft... hairy's bed


After a few minutes inhaling the skunk smell in the tent, we really couldn’t even tell how bad it was anymore, so off to sleep we went.

What a nightmare of a last night in Canada.

And we’re sorry, whoever had to use or clean those showers after our dogs used them. I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant.

The upshot of having the dogs stink like skunk is that we think it got us across the border faster. We were expecting to probably have some of our stuff searched upon reentering the U.S., but once the border patrol realized we had two huge dogs in the cab of the truck… and we mentioned the skunk incident, we quickly were handed back our vet papers and passports and were told to have a safe trip home.

And we giggled as we headed back toward Grand Marais, with Stink 1 and Stink 2 in tow. Ahhhhh…

... back to grand marais. perfect!

the chet chronicles, book one: the great chet rescue

April 21st, 2012

In October of 2010, Kirk and I took our delayed honeymoon and went camping in northern Minnesota and Canada.

Tent camping. In October.

We stayed a few nights in Grand Marais, did some hiking, enjoyed the sights. Then we were off for Canada. Eh!

I had never before been to Canada. I was sort of excited to use my passport again, since it had been in a drawer for almost four years. We also had the dogs with us. Fortunately, we had done our homework and knew we had to have certain vaccinations and verifications of said vaccinations for Chet and Hairy in order to not get them INTO Canada but to get them back OUT of Canada. Seems if your dogs aren’t properly vaccinated, you need to visit a Canadian vet before you can gain access to the United States. Tricky Canucks.

We stayed at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park; the rocks in the distance gave the appearance of a sleeping giant. I get it.

sleeping giant provincial campground


We drove around the 300-site campground to pick out the best spot. Along the way, we saw several deer and a porcupine. Never seen one of those before.

Finally we picked a spot nestled next to the lake. Turns out not too many folks tent camp in October, probably because the evening temps  linger around freezing. We brought a shitload of blankets and quilts, long underwear and stocking caps, so we were prepared. Sort of. I also prefer it to be a little on the chilly side when I’m trying to sleep. Chilly and freezing are two completely different beasts, however. I think we saw four other sites with campers on them. Busy place.

our campsite, #140A. thought the A was fitting since we were in canada, eh


Kirk asked the lady at the visitor’s center about hiking trails. She suggested one that “would probably take a few hours.” Cool.

Day 1 we packed up some sandwiches, filled our water pouches in our backpacks and set out on our “few hour hike.”

We later dubbed the hike “the death march.”

the start of the hike on 'the death march'


Long story short, it took two or three times longer than “a few hours,” and we barely made it back to our truck before the sun went down. We saw no other people along that hike, and no one knew we were there. Kirk’s legs cramped up, and he wasn’t sure he was going to make it out. I carried both our packs and convinced him to keep pushing on; we had one shitty flashlight, two curious dogs and very little daylight remaining. And we were running out of water.

Eventually we found the start of the path… and the truck! It was like finding the Holy Grail. We decided after that we’d stick to shorter trails… and ones with actual PEOPLE on them.

Day 2 we drove to a spot that had a few trails going off in this direction or that. We picked one and headed out, again with some sandwiches and plenty of water. We even put Chet’s pack on him and stuffed it with bottles of water, just in case.

chet with his pack


We didn’t get even a mile in when the dogs spotted something that caught their interest, and off they ran. Kirk tried to call them back, but they were on a mission. All I could hear was leaves rustling and the dogs… not barking, not whimpering, but…

Then there was silence.

“Chet?! Hairy?!”


I followed the path I saw the dogs take that wasn’t a path at all; it was a jungle of tree branches and chaos. Then there was a drop off. Straight down.

I’m not kidding, that hill had to have been an 80 degree angle. It was a dirt cliff, and it went on seemingly forever. But my dogs were down there, so down I went…

On my butt. In a big damn hurry.

Kirk was at the top of the hill, unaware that I had gone down it in search of the dogs. He kept calling my name, but I was too busy trying to stay upright that I wasn’t able to answer. I did a lot of yelling and probably a lot of swearing, but that was it.

On the way down, I saw Hairy trying to make his way back up the hill. He was struggling but determined, so I helped him up by giving his rump a shove up the hill.

I yelled for Kirk to call for Hairy. He did, and Hairy eventually made it up the hill back to safety.

But where was Chet?

'the hill.' it went STRAIGHT down


I called his name.


I could hear him farther down the hill, whimpering. But I couldn’t hear any movement.

I got to the bottom of the hill, my hands numb from the quick slide down, my shorts dusty from the dirt and my shoes filled with tiny pebbles. I looked over and saw Chet trapped in a massive pile of branches and tumbleweeds, almost like a giant branch/weed ball.

His pack had flipped, so there were four water bottles weighing him down on one side, and the heavy, awkward pack was preventing him from breaking free of the trap he found himself in.

Chet saw me and started to panic. He tried harder to get out of the branches, but he was stuck.

I tried to calm him down as I got closer to him, and I bent and broke and ripped branches away until I reached him. But the pack was keeping me from getting him out entirely.

I unbuckled his pack and continued to twist and pull branches away so Chet could get out.

Again, I yelled up to Kirk to call for Chet. I couldn’t see Kirk; I wasn’t even sure how far down this hill I was. But I figured if Chet could hear Kirk, he could make his way back up the hill.

And away he went, to safety.

And there I was with Chet’s heavy pack and that 80 degree incline of dirt staring me in the face.


Realizing there was no way I could climb up this hill AND hang onto Chet’s pack, I threw the pack around my neck and started to dig my way up.

That pack was heavy. Sorry, Chet.

I tried grabbing onto pieces of nature to help me up the hill, but everything that looked like a tree root was just a branch… stuck in the sand. And I’d end up yanking it out as I tried to use it for a climbing tool. Frustrating.

Instead, I wedged my fingers and my feet into the dirt, turning my feet sideways to try and get some sort of grip on this impossible hill.

It worked. Sort of.

I kept calling for Kirk to try and figure out how much father I had to climb. And to figure out where I needed to go. After all the excitement, I was a tad disoriented.



Up. Keep climbing…

I’m not sure how long it took me to crawl up that hill. It may as well have been forever. And a day.

Kirk said it was about 20 minutes, but it must have been at least 10 times that. At least!

I finally reached the top of the hill and reunited with Kirk and the dogs. Then I realized I had been running on pure adrenaline, and fatigue set in fast. I was hot. I was tired. I still had Chet’s pack hanging around my neck.

I emptied the dirt out of my shoes and took inventory of the scratches on my legs and arms. And then I took inventory of my dogs: one Hairy and one Chet. All was well.

shortly after i rescued my duggie


I had to sit for a bit before continuing on the hike, and we both made sure to keep the dogs CLOSE. I’d have been damned if I was going to let Chet and Hairy run off to explore on their own again.

The rest of the day was less exciting. Whew. The great Chet rescue was enough excitement for one trip.

Until, of course, the dogs chased that Canadian skunk in the middle of the night…

But that’s another (stinky) story for another day.




downside-up sleepin’ kittehs

January 9th, 2012

jan. 3, 2012. both the tiny and the pooper were in their usual spots, snuggled next to mom.

but this night was a little different. not sure why, but both cats were sleeping on their backs, with their tiny and giant monstah feetz, respectively, in the air.

tiny was curled up next to my head, and pooper was taking up as much real estate near my feet as he possibly could.

two cats. eight feetz… in the air.

it looked a little something like this:

little bundle of fur

December 29th, 2011

dec. 27, 2011

yes, there’s a pattern forming here.

before i shut off the tv and tried to catch some Zs, the tiny curled up ON my chest to sleep. her whiskers were tickling my face, but i didn’t want to move for fear she’d get spooked and bolt. there are few things better than snuggling with the tiny.

kirk wasn’t yet in bed, so the pooper decided he’d take over that side of the bed. he, of course, had to move about an hour later… and he once again took up residence on my feet. such a good pooper!

and the tiny… she’s just a cuddle bug. i’ve never had a cat that cuddles at night the way she does. i can’t pick her up and hold her like i can with the big cat; it has to be on her terms, so it makes me SO happy to know she’s comfortable enough to curl up with me. i feel like i’m protecting her, and i hope she knows i’ll never let anything happen to her.

i hope it means something to her that i let her sleep on me; it means SO much to me that she does it… and it’s the sweetest thing.


tiny “scarf”

December 29th, 2011

dec. 22, 2011

i woke up in the middle of the night to discover a “scarf” — the exact size, shape, warmth and cuteness of a tiny, fuzzy, cuddly purring baby rhia — draped over my neck. it was better than any dream.

once i realized the tiny was snuggling with me, i hugged her and pulled her closer… and she just purred.

that little cat is six solid pounds of pure love


… and then came chet…

December 29th, 2011

december 7, 2011

tiny was a-snooze next to me, and the pooper was manning his post — at my feet.

and then chet came to investigate.

the tiny cat doesn’t like the dogs; i don’t know if she’s afraid of them necessarily, but they’re SO much bigger than she is, so i can understand her hesitation with wanting to befriend them. instead, she hisses at them — and runs… even if she’s curled up next to mom.

this particular night left me with a few scratches from tiny’s freddy krueger-like razor claws. sigh.





december 1, 2011

December 28th, 2011

i sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with fuzzy beasties curled around me. it’s awesome.

this is a diagram of the sleeping arrangements from dec. 1, 2011. the dogs were on the floor; kirk was to my right. but the cats… they OWN this bed


…for almost two days…

June 13th, 2011

kirk and i went to his friend shawn’s house in braham on saturday.

one of shawn’s kids, pendleton, found a baby bird in the yard earlier in the day. he put it in a flower pot. a group of us saw it on our way back from the hopping Braham Appreciation Day Parade. the bird’s eyes were still closed, but it was opening its mouth for food.

i immediately thought about how helpless it was, and i wanted to find some food for it. someone suggested digging up worms, but kirk, having owned a pet shop, said to feed it baby food.

i think most everyone had resolved to just let nature take its course and to leave this baby bird to die on its own, but i told kirk i couldn’t do that. no way. i was going to try and save it.

i asked kirk if we could go get some baby food. well, ‘asked’ isn’t really the right word; i begged. i didn’t care WHERE we got it from, but i was pretty panicked thinking about the baby bird and the immediacy with which something needed to be done to help it. so yeah, i was frantic.

we walked to the store to get some dry baby food, that stuff that looks like instant potato flakes. yum.

shawn’s son half-heartedly wanted to learn how to take care of the bird. he thought it was a cool idea, but then he realized it’d probably be a big responsibility and balked. it was finally decided we’d take the bird home with us, and it would be my duty to care for the little guy (i assumed “little guy;” i didn’t know for sure, but it sounded right).

we moved the bird, now in a box and wrapped in a towel, onto the front seat of the car to keep him warm and prevent any of the neighborhood cats (of which i was told there were “many”) from getting to him.

throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening, i repeatedly mixed his food, heated it up in the microwave and syringe-fed that little guy while starting the car and cranking the heat in order to keep him warm.

he pooped on me a few times, but i was cool with that. after all, it was just poop.

early sunday morning we got the baby bird home and put the box he was in on a heating pad… had a new towel and a scrap of fleece in the box to help it retain the warmth. this was a far cry from the big, scary world he was dumped into all alone. now he had someone to care for him.

all day sunday i again repeatedly mixed and warmed the food every few hours. each time i did, the cats thought THEY were getting that food. no-no. i kept telling my giant monstah kitty, reilly, that this food was for a tiny baby bird who was too little to eat on his own, so i had to help him.

i again syringe-fed the baby bird, in awe of how tiny he was, how big and wobbly its head was and how he would try, try, try to hold up his head and open his beak as wide as he could for me to drop in some food. he was entirely dependent on me.

that little bird made quite a mess with that food, and i would tell him that in the goofy baby talk voice people use when they’re talking to animals (and, incidentally, babies).

i also would whistle at the bird to get him to open his mouth, trying to convince him i was his mama bird, ready to give him food. it worked a few times.

i’d make sure to wipe off his beak and under his tiny chin so the food wouldn’t dry on his little body and wings, which didn’t yet have feathers. he’d clamp his little clawed feet around my fingers when i’d pick him up or shift him in my hands to give him more food. that made me feel like what i was doing for him was a good thing; i thought of it as his way of saying “thank you.”

and again, i got pooped on, but that was a sign that things were okay, so i didn’t mind. g’head and poop on me all you want, little bird.

i was already planning my work week – i would go in early so that i could come home a few times each day to check on the little guy and feed him.

and i planned on coming home between my two jobs on wednesday and thursday for the same reason, which doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but riding a bike often makes traveling from one job to the other a tricky thing when time and distance get factored in.

figured i’d likely have to stay a little later at work each night, but i was fine with that. i just wanted this little guy to have the best chance he could, and if my time during the day was better spent helping him, i’d gladly make up the work time.

i started to wonder if and when i should buy a cage, because once he got bigger and started making noise, the cats would THEN know there was a bird in the house. he’d need protection from them. hmmm…

i wondered how long it’d be before he’d open his eyes, though i SWEAR he opened his left eye sunday night when i fed him before bed. and he looked at me for just a second… i think. it was only the one instance, so i can’t be sure of it. but i’m telling myself that’s what happened. 

i wondered if he’d know how to fly. and if not, how would i teach him to do THAT?? i was hoping that at that point, instinct would kick in.

and i wondered how i’d know he’d be ready to go out on his own… and hopefully return every summer to say hi.

but i was getting ahead of myself.

monday morning i got up early, mixed up and heated his food again, grabbed the syringe and some paper towels and headed toward his box. i lifted the towel off the top of the box only to find no movement from inside.

i always hated this part, because i never knew for sure if he was going to be okay.

this time, he wasn’t.

the little bird had died, and i felt totally helpless – about as helpless as he probably felt without his mom in shawn’s yard. now i was a surrogate mama bird, and my baby bird was gone.

i picked him up, and he was cold… not super cold, but he wasn’t very big either. so this cold was cold enough.

i stroked his back and his featherless wings and talked to him: “baby bird? baby BIRD???? c’mon, baby bird!!!”


he just lay there motionless, in a little, curled ball of tiny birdness.

i was numb.

i wished i had known what MORE i could have done to help him. i felt like i failed him, and i started crying… begging him to come back.

kirk had warned me that the bird, being a wild bird, likely would die, but i figured he, at the very least, deserved a chance. i’d have felt worse if i had just left him alone in that flower pot, KNOWING he wouldn’t survive on his own.

i did the best i could, i think… i hope. i did everything i knew how to do, but it wasn’t enough.

and, again, i wondered what to do…

i put the baby bird in a little decorative box with a ribbon and a bow, and i affixed to the inside of the box top a sticker — of a cartoon star holding a heart-shaped balloon, so that this little bird would know he was loved… even if only for almost two days.

through tears and sniffles, i dug a hole with a garden spade near the steps in the front yard and gently set the box down into it.

i told the baby bird, “i tried, little guy. i’m so sorry.” i cried some more and then covered the box with dirt… and, ironically, a worm.

and while he was too little to open his eyes, didn’t have yet a feather on his tiny little frame and could barely hold up his head, i know he now has his wings.

"gimme food!"

so tiny

hewo, baby bird!

his little box

a new friend

February 6th, 2011

four years ago today, i brought home a friend.

for the two weeks prior, i had been a complete basket case; my cat of almost 10 years, edgrr, hadn’t been with me for that time period. i had noticed she had lost weight and interest in eating. turns out she was going through kidney failure. after an overnight stay at the vet and several hundred dollars, i learned i either had to bring her home and watch her starve to death…or say goodbye.

i sat alone in the vet’s office the night of jan. 20, 2007, and i hemmed and hawed over what to do. this cat was my best friend. she’d been with me through so much, and to imagine my life without her was incomprehensible.

the vet brought edgrr into the exam room, and for the first time ever, she sat on my lap, her catheter still in her front leg. she didn’t say anything; she just sat in my lap and purred, which made my decision that much more heartbreaking.

i heard a knock on the door and assumed it was the vet coming to find out what my decision was. it wasn’t the vet; it was my dad. he’d been in town that day to help my sister move out of her dorm, and when he saw my car at the vet’s office after hours, he knew something was up.

he asked me what they said, and instead of answering him, i started bawling. he knew. he’d been through this four times with his own pets, but this was the first time i’d had to deal with it myself. the two of us went through half a box of kleenex while i made my decision.

the vet came back in, but before he did what he had to do, i had edgrr’s paw print stamped on a piece of paper. that paw print later became a memorial tattoo that’s now permanently inked on my left calf.

i told edgrr i loved her, kissed her…and said goodbye. that drive home was the longest, coldest, quietest ride of my life.

and i went home to an equally empty, cold and quiet apartment. i kept expecting edgrr to come around the corner, but she never did. i cried until i fell asleep and woke up with the tv still on and my eyes glued shut. and i still missed my cat.

i didn’t eat for a week. i didn’t want to. all i wanted was my cat at home and for me to be happy again.

a few friends kept telling me to go out “now” and get another cat, but i didn’t want to; i wasn’t done missing this one yet.

a week later, i started eating again…and got the tattoo.

a week after that, i started checking the humane society’s website…just to look. i saw two cats i maybe wanted to take a look at, but both of them were males. i’d never had a male cat before because i heard they like to pee everywhere.

i visited that site probably 10 times in the next 2 days and kept looking at those two cats. i showed them to my mom, who told me, “male cats are more affectionate.” really? maybe that’s what i needed.

so i went to look at cody and harpo.

as soon as i entered the cat adoption room, i found cody. he was in a cage next to the door, and good news for him: he was going home. someone had put down a deposit on him and would be coming the next day to bring him home. cody was off the table.

i looked at the other cats, still searching the cages for harpo. i saw one black, female cat who looked just like edgrr. she was friendly enough, but i wasn’t sure i could have a cat that would remind me of the friend i had just lost. moving on…

i saw harpo’s paperwork hanging next to his cage, and in that cage, he slept. he’d just had surgery and was now officially an “it,” so he didn’t want to be disturbed. i probably wouldn’t have wanted to be disturbed either. nevertheless, i had found him, and i just looked. his back was to the cage door, so all i could see was fur. LOTS of fur. and he had enormous feet. he was six months old, and with feet already that big, i had a feeling he was gonna grow up to be a monster.

one of the volunteers at the shelter asked if i wanted to see him. she said she could open the cage door but didn’t want me to handle the cat because of his recent surgery. no problem.

the cage door opened, and harpo turned his head back to see what was going on, and he let out the biggest “MEOW” i’d heard in a long time. i said hi to him and petted him…and because of that friendly meow, i made the decision that i’d give him a home. after all, he was super cute.

i put down my $10 deposit and was informed i could come back the next day to bring harpo home. i was hoping i was making a wise decision, but one thing was for sure: that name HAD to go.

the following day, feb. 5, 2007, was one of the coldest days in the history of cold days. it was so cold my car didn’t start. this was not a good start to the day when i was supposed to bring home my new cat.

i called a friend to jump start my car, so off to work i went.

at noon, i headed over to the shelter to bring home harpo. i talked to him the entire way home. yes, it was that crazy baby talk that people think their pets like to hear. harpo talked back.

i left him locked in the bathroom with a nightlight, a radio, food, water and toys. i didn’t want him tearing up my apartment while i finished my shift at work, and i wasn’t sure how he’d react to his new surroundings. plus, i figured the bathroom was MUCH larger than the cage he’d been in the last six weeks. he didn’t seem to mind.

i couldn’t concentrate the rest of the day at work. i wanted to get home and get to know my new cat. i came up with a few names for him, but then i figured maybe he had to earn his new name. so i waited.

the sun set, and i FINALLY went home. as soon as i let harpo out of the bathroom, he zigged and zagged all over the apartment. he was like a coiled spring, and clearly it had been a while since he’d been allowed to run. and jump. and climb. he did all of that…all while meowing at the top of his kitty cat lungs. i think he was a tad excited to have a home.

because he was so riled up, he indeed earned his new name: reilly.

he kept up this high-energy activity most of the night. i had to curl up on the floor in the living room with a pillow and blanket because it seemed to be the only thing that would keep him quiet. he continued to run around and explore his new surroundings while i tried desperately to get some sleep.

i woke up around 2 a.m., and reilly was snuggled at my feet. FINALLY he was tired, and he was sleeping next to me. win-win.

he did grow up to be a giant monster…err, monstah. he’s about 20 pounds, but he’s about 20 pounds of the biggest mama’s boy there ever was. he’s a cuddler, and he’s ridiculously silly.

he definitely was what i needed to get over the funk i was in after edgrr died. i still miss edgrr, but reilly (and his little sister i brought home for him on his second birthday) gives me something to look forward to every day.

and he has become one of my little furry best friends, who still sleeps at my feet every night.

happy anniversary, reilly!