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I’ve talked a lot here and on social media about our dogs but there’s another member of our family that isn’t mentioned much. Our crazy, black cat, Collins.
So why an unbirthday? That’s because we don’t know exactly when his birthday is, or even how old he actually is.
Here’s the story: It was ten years ago, in 2006, about a week before we were supposed to leave for Christmas in New York City. I was putting garland and bows up on the fence around our property and I happened to glance down and see this black cat watching me. I spoke to him and he meowed back at me. It was the beginning of a conversation that hasn’t stopped.
The next thing I knew, he was purring and rubbing against my leg. I petted him and told him to go home but he proceeded to follow and talk to me. This went on for a couple of hours. He followed me completely around the fence and then into the yard.
Over the years, we’ve seen many feral cats in our neighborhood and not one has ever approached us– let alone let us pet them. He obviously belonged to someone and must have either gotten out or was abandoned.
I finished what I was doing, told him to go home again and went in the house. I checked again later, before letting the dogs out but he was no where to be seen. I just figured he wandered home. Actually, he was still there but he was smart enough to hide. He was here and he wasn’t leaving.
A little later I went out and he came running down our back stairs, purring and meowing for attention. Concerned he hadn’t eaten recently, I put out some wet cat food for him but he wasn’t interested. So I still figured he was just visiting. (He must be eating somewhere!)
This became a pattern over several days. He was always there. He’d see us coming or going and as long as the dogs weren’t around, he’d follow us. If we went in the house, he’d sit in the driveway and wait.
I tried not to give him too much attention because I get attached too easily and he was just too friendly to be a stray. Still– worried he hadn’t eaten, I tried putting out some dry food and he devoured it in minutes. (He’s a finicky eater! He will not eat wet cat food.)
We felt like we had to do something. He wasn’t leaving…. and we couldn’t stop worrying about him.
Michael happened to mention the situation to our friend Tony, at work. Tony happened to be considering the idea of getting a cat but he thought he have might have allergy issues. Michael told Tony we hated that we were leaving town– and worried about leaving him all that time in the snow and the cold. (Nasty weather was in the forecast.) Tony said he’d take him (on a trial basis) and at least he’d be safe.
For us, that was a relief. While we were gone, Tony took him to the vet and had him checked out. The vet guessed he was probably about three years old and was perfectly healthy. He also suggested that he should be neutered. So Tony took care of it all but his allergies were bothering him and he didn’t feel like he was going to be able to keep him.
That’s the story. When we got home, Tony brought him back to us and we had a new member of the family.
We had been adopted.
We named Collins after the character Tom Collins in the musical RENT.
For anyone wondering, we did check the available resources at the time to make sure whether anyone was looking for him or not.
Collins always seems to get along with the other kids just find. Except, dogs play a little too rough so Collins always knows when to make himself scarce.
Some Collins facts/highlights from the past ten years:
- Collins goes crazy over cheeseburgers and melted cheese from pizza. He smells it and come running and begging!
- Like many cats, Collins is nocturnal. He sleeps most of the day and plays at night.
- We tried letting him sleep with us but after one broken lamp– he’s pretty much banned from the bedroom.
- If we happen to leave the bedroom door open, no matter if it’s day or night, Collins will be found sleeping on the bed.
- After Roxie died and after years of pretty much ignoring each other, Cash and Collins became regular snuggle buddies.
- Since I keep crazy hours and I’m always up way before the dogs– Collins is my constant companion in the wee hours of the morning– until Belle and Dudley get up. Then he disappears. Belle likes to tackle and lay on top of Collins if she can catch him. Collins does not appreciate this!
- Collins and Belle will frequently sit in the stairwell and have a stare down. This can go on for hours.
- Collins loves to talk! He will meow at you nonstop until he gets sufficient attention.
- Collins’ purr is quite loud and he loves to give kisses and lick your face like a dog.
- Collins does not like to have his picture taken and absolutely WILL NOT wear clothes, costumes or hats!
So Happy UnBirthday Collins! He’s probably the sweetest, friendliest, most docile cat I’ve ever met.
I better finish this up– he’s on my lap and pawing my face because I’m not looking at him enough. That, and he keeps covering my computer keys with his paws and tail.
Michael and I headed to Florida over Thanksgiving week to spend time with both our families. We celebrated Michael’s side of the family in Inverness on Thursday and then with my family in Auburndale on Saturday. Sunday morning, we decided to spend a few hours at the Circle B Bar Reserve on Lake Hancock.
Named after the cattle ranch that once existed on the property, Circle B was restored to its natural state by Polk County, beginning in 2005. The restoration that has occurred on this marshland in just ten years is pretty impressive.
The visit brought back many memories and images of the Florida that I grew up in back in the 1970’s.
Here are a few images I shot during our visit:
I’d return here to Circle B over Disney any day.
I spent most of my childhood, growing up in a small town in Florida.
When I was a kid…
- We played outside.
- We played outside without our parents having to watch us.
- We played Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers or War. (and never really thought about actually owning a gun!)
- We dug in the dirt.
- We made forts and hideouts on empty lots with brush and debris.
- We rode bicycles for hours. (Without helmets.)
- We sometimes built a fire and slept in a tent in the backyard.
- We were often barefoot.
- For special entertainment, we played outside at our cousins’ houses.
When I was a kid…
- We had daily chores like dusting and washing dishes.
- We read books. My sister and I checking out 20 books at a time from the library.
- We learned how to grow vegetables in a garden.
- We saved our allowance all year so we could buy Christmas presents for our family.
- If we wanted candy or ice cream, we picked up pop bottles and cashed them in for their deposit at the nearby convenience store.
- We did our homework without being told. (And it actually affected our grades.)
When I was a kid…
- If we had fast food it was a special occasion. A sit down restaurant was an event.
- We watched television less than 3 hours a day.
- When we wanted to look something up, we used the encyclopedia.
- Telephones had cords and were only used for important (short) conversations.
- We wrote letters and mailed cards for birthdays and holidays.
- Dessert was a rare treat not a daily source of nutrition.
- We drank water from the tap (or even from the hose). We had pop/soda no more than once a week.
- Other than going to the grocery, shopping was only something you did for school clothes and at Christmas.
- If there was something you really wanted, it didn’t magically show up at the end of the day. If you were lucky in might show up under the Christmas tree.
- We didn’t hang out at the mall or see all the current movies. (I can count the movies I saw growing up on my fingers.)
- We learned to draw, write, and made and built things with our hands.
- We knew how to use our imaginations.
When I was a kid…
- We didn’t have computers, or Internet, or Smart Phones or cable TV.
- If we wanted to communicate, we opened our mouths.
- Safety was something you did, not a government mandate.
- Teachers weren’t babysitters, they were actually allowed to teach class.
- We didn’t always lock our doors.
- Black Friday didn’t start in July.
When I was a kid…
- We loved our country and believed in the American Dream.
- Politicians were intelligent and respected– they were our heroes.
- Congress did something.
- We weren’t afraid of Police. They were there to help us.
- Guns were only used by soldiers, police and hunters.
- Most families we knew only had one working parent, with one job and they were able to live comfortably.
- We were taught honesty and hard work were the keys to success.
- We thought people were just people regardless of color, class or religion.
- You could believe what you heard on the news.
- Everyone wasn’t out to get you.
Then we grew up…
And everything changed.
Sunday when I took Cash up for his nap -okay, our nap- I gave him his treat but didn’t throw a few of his toys on the bed like usual. Not that he actual played with them– more than anything I think he just liked having them around him. Seeing this, Cash took matters into his own hands (paws) and somehow managed to open the door to Belle’s crate and took her bone. With it hanging out of his mouth like an oversized, cartoon cigar he climbed up on the bed, turned around in circles and laid down– pressed against me– to go to sleep. Michael had Belle and Dudley in the other room, so this time was just about us.
I have a lot of memories like this- simple, not profound but beautiful.
Cashman. Boogey. Boogers. Boog. Goofy. Goof. Son. Brother. Big Brother. Baby Boy. Old Man. My Cash.
Yesterday, I had to say goodbye. Time simply ran out.
Twelve years and nine months. He outlived his sister by just over two years and has been my constant companion since then.
But it was time.
I thought I was losing him twice earlier in the day but Cash always was a fighter. He hung in there. He hung in through the ride to vet, where they were able to give him medication to make sure he was comfortable and he hung in until Michael could get there.
Nose to nose and staring into his eyes I told him I loved him. I told him it was okay to let go. I whispered it was time for him to run and find his sister. Nose to nose I felt him take his last breath.
Through it all I tried to stay calm, to not cry, to reassure him. When he was finally gone– through the sadness and grief– more than anything I felt lucky.
Cash was a gift. The last two years when I really got to know him and bond with him on a different level were the greatest gift.
I’ll miss his smell. I’ll miss the upturned corners of his mouth–that I call a smile when I’d kiss him or stroke his fur.
I’ll miss him pretending to sleep, one ear flipped up so he can hear what’s going on and not miss anything.
I’ll miss Michael getting out of bed every night when it was time to go to sleep and kneeling at the end, scratching his ears and covering him in kisses.
I’ll miss Cash waiting for me at the door, begging for treats, snuggling with me on the couch and in bed… his guilty looks… his playfulness.
And most of all– those eyes. I’d swear looking into his eyes connected our souls.
So very Lucky.
Before posting on Facebook, I posted the following:
I want everyone reading this to stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, take a deep breath– and be grateful for all the good things you have to be thankful for. Life comes with no guarantees. The only thing certain– is this moment.
I wanted to share– but not make this all about me. Grief and loss is something we all experience throughout our lives. So many times we get caught up and forget the important things.
Earlier this month, it seemed a lot of friends were experiencing grief and loss. I found and posted this:
When we got home from the vet, we let the babies out and I had to plug my drained phone into the charger… next to Cash’s empty food bowl. A while later, I opened the refrigerator to find his half can of dog food, covered in foil, staring me in the face. Little moments of grief and remembrance. There will be a lot of those moments over the coming weeks. The empty space on the couch, toys only he played with, tags in drawers forgotten long ago. It’s all part of the process.
Within hours of posting on Facebook, over a hundred people has expressed their condolences. Reminding me once again that I am so Lucky.
At bedtime, there wasn’t even any discussion. Belle and Dudley got their peanut butter, their crates were left open and they both climbed up on the bed. They played a little before settling down and going to sleep. I didn’t sleep well– but mostly because it’s hard to sleep with a sixty-pound boxer pushing me to the edge and snuggling with her head on my chest– snoring softly. I was blissfully uncomfortable.
So very, very lucky.
In August 2013, I visited Berlin and the Museum Stutthof (Stutthof Concentration Camp) near Gdansk in Poland. For me, it was an emotional journey in remembrance of horrible atrocities that occurred in the world, long before I was born. As I started reading the novel, The Children’s Train, I had images come to life, enhanced by places I had visited. I thought I’d share some of the pictures I took, along with my review of Jana Zinser’s captivating new book.
It has been estimated that from 1938 to 1940, the Kindertransport spared the lives of 10,000 children from almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis. Most of those children, from infant to age 17, were the only members of their families to survive the brutality of World War II. Parents desperate to protect their children, handed them over to strangers to be boarded on trains that would take them to safety.
Zinser has written a heart-wrenching, epic story that follows lives of several children that survived (as well as the fates of their families); from the beginning occupation through the end of the war.
Zinser takes readers from escape of occupied territories, into hiding, to safety, the concentration camps; and then back undercover behind enemy lines.
Here’s the description from the publisher:
In November 1938 on The Night of the Broken Glass, the Jewish people of Germany are terrified as Hitler’s men shatter their store windows, steal and destroy their belongings, and arrest many Jewish fathers and brothers. Parents fear for their own lives but their focus is on protecting their children. When England arranges to take the children out of Germany by train, the Kindertransport is organized and parents scramble to get places on the trains for their young family members, worried about what the future will hold. Soon, trains filled with Jewish children escaping the Nazis chug over the border into Holland, where they are ferried across the English Channel to England and to freedom. But for Peter, the shy violin player, his sister Becca, and his friends Stephen and Hans, life in England holds challenges as well. Peter’s friend Eva, who did not get a seat on the Kindertransport, is left to the evil plans of Hitler. Peter, working his musician’s hands raw at a farm in Coventry, wonders if they should have stayed and fought back instead of escaping. When the Coventry farm is bombed and Nazis have reached England, Peter feels he has nothing left. He decides it’s time to stand and fight Hitler. Peter returns to Germany to join the Jewish underground resistance, search for the mother and sister he left behind in Berlin, and rescue his childhood friend Eva.
It’s a story of fear, torture, loss, hope, freedom, survival and most important of all– it’s a story of heroism of epic proportions.
As someone that has had an ongoing interest in Holocaust studies and education, what I really like about The Children’s Train is that this novel gives the reader an in depth look; both in varying viewpoints and through a broad scope of experiences, making it a perfect introductory-look into the history of the Holocaust. It is thoroughly engaging from start to finish. After reading, you not only have a better picture of the many devastating situations endured by Holocaust victims and survivors; you also have a clearer understanding of Nazi and German (not mutually inclusive) people’s positions and actions. Yes, some believed in Hitler’s plan of hate. Others acted based on financial reasoning and many more out of fear.
The subject matter may be a little heavy for young readers but I’d certainly recommend it for high school through adults. Zinser tells the story simply, without over-dramatizing or trying to be graphically-shocking. By the very nature of the events, even through the author’s delicate handling, it might be too overwhelming for younger children.
The young lives of Peter, Eva and all the others will tug at your heart and inspire you. You’ll discover hope in humanity though quiet, unassuming acts of courage and heroism; and mourn the lives of those that were lost.
Though 10,000 children may have been spared by the Kindertransport; 6 million Jews lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis — many of them children. This is their unforgettable story.
I received an ARC of The Children’s Train, A Novel through NetGalley.
When I woke up this morning, taking my cup of coffee and Kindle outside, I had hoped to spend a few quiet few hours reading before Michael and the kids (our pups) got up. I didn’t expect to finish, teary-eyed and even bawling through passages of the final few chapters.
A good book, whether fiction or non, takes you on a journey. Perhaps somewhere familiar or on some new adventure. If you’re lucky, besides a good read, you might learn something along the way.
I got a complimentary ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of All Dogs Go To Kevin by Dr. Jessica Vogelsang through the NetGalley website. It’s official publication date is July 14, 2015. As a dog owner/lover, I thought I’d give it a shot.
The NetGalley description goes on with, “You can’t always count on people, but you can always count on your dog. No one knows that better than veterinarian Jessica Vogelsang, who with the help of three dogs, is buoyed through adolescence, veterinary school, and the early years of motherhood. Taffy, the fearsome Lhasa; Emmett, an amiable Golden; and Kekoa, the neurotic senior Labrador, are always by her side, offering lessons in empathy and understanding for all the oddballs and misfits who come through the vet clinic doors. Also beside her is Kevin, a human friend who lives with the joie de vivre most people only dream of having. But when tragedy strikes, Jessica is reminded that the animals we love give more than they take.”
This isn’t an owners’ manual or a how to book, but rather a beautiful memoir of sorts, of Doctor Vogelsang’s (Dr. V) personal journey to becoming a caring Veterinarian, mother and guardian of some wonderful dogs. There are some wonderful takeaways in this book that are inherently present. 1) All dogs are not created equal. 2) All vets are not created equal; and there is an important partnership between owner and caregiver that should be present to maximize a pet’s quality of life. 3) The pain and heartbreak of losing a pet can never outweigh the rewards of loving one.
A year and a half later, I’m still grieving the loss of Roxie. Not an all-consumed, depressing loss– but a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think or her and miss her wet kisses. And more so, I worry about her brother Cash; who at 12 years old, has good days and bad days and many in between.
It was impossible not to directly connect with many of the humorous and touching moments of Dr. V’s experiences. Her empathy and humanity will enrapt you in an enormous bear hug and not let you go.
According to the author’s bio, “Dr. Vogelsang discovered a passion for working with pets and families in the end-stages of life, and now practices full time with Paws into Grace providing hospice care to dogs and cats.”
So why the title, All Dogs Go To Kevin? I don’t like spoilers, so you’ll just have to read the book to find out.
I highly recommend this book to pet owners, pet lovers and anyone even considering adding a furry friend to their family. It will serve as a great comfort and resource when building a life with a four-legged companion.
All Dogs Go To Kevin
by Doctor Jessica Vogelsang
Publication date: July 14, 2015
Grand Central Publishing
Available in Hardcover, Kindle, Audible and Audio CD. Purchase on Amazon by clicking here.