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A Very Merry UnBirthday

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.

 

Collins, February 2007.

Collins, February 2007.

 

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.

 

Collins, December 2008.

Collins, December 2008.

 

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.

 

Collins got Chia grass for Christmas (2011) and it was the first (and only) time he jumped up on the kitchen counter.

Collins got Chia grass for Christmas (2011) and it was the first (and only) time he jumped up on the kitchen counter.

 

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!

 

Collins, December 2016.

Collins, December 2016.

 

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.

Crazy cat!

 

Thanksgiving at Circle B

An Alligator in the marsh at Circle B Bar Reserve.

An Alligator in the marsh at Circle B Bar Reserve.

 

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:

 

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

@Circle B Bar Reserve

My family at Circle B Bar Reserve. Photographed by my Father.

My family at Circle B Bar Reserve. Photographed by my Father.

 

I’d return here to Circle B over Disney any day.

 

When I Was A Kid…

With my sister in 1967.

With my sister in 1967.

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.

 

 

Lucky.

Cash, January 2016.

Cash, January 2016.

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.

My boy.

Cash.

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.

Saying Goodbye.

Saying Goodbye.

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.

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.

Lucky.

Fall 2015

Fall 2015

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.

IMG_5463

Cash and Dudley Two Weeks Ago.

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:

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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.

Cash & Roxie as puppies.

Cash & Roxie as puppies.

 

Thank you Alyssa Davis for putting this together.

Thank you Alyssa Davis for putting this together.

 

Cash and Belle. 2014.

Cash and Belle. 2014.

 

One of my most favorite pictures of Cash and I.

One of my most favorite pictures of Cash and I.

Christmas At Home: Pictures

Merry Christmas Everyone! Here are some pictures of our house decorated for the holidays. 321 Division Street is all lit up. A total of 34 trees lit this year, inside and out.

Our house shot from across the street.

Our house shot from across the street.

Daytime shot of the front porch.

Daytime shot of the front porch.

 

Our 'A Christmas Story' Leg Lamp in the window.

Our ‘A Christmas Story’ Leg Lamp in the window.

 

The Front Parlor.

The Front Parlor.

Tree in the Foyer.

Tree in the Foyer.

 

Our tree in the front yard with the church in the background.

Our tree in the front yard with the church in the background.

 

Front Porch at night.

Front Porch at night.

 

Dudley looking like the Grinch.

Dudley looking like the Grinch.

 

Christmas Snowflakes.

Christmas Snowflakes.

 

Cash, my old man.

Cash, my old man.

 

321 Division Street, Christmas 2015.

321 Division Street, Christmas 2015.

Belle- Wondering why she couldn't be Santa.

Belle- Wondering why she couldn’t be Santa.

 

Dudley and Cash were not amused by the head gear.

Dudley and Cash were not amused by the head gear.

 

The Christmas Day Full Cold Moon. First one since 1977.

The Christmas Day Full Cold Moon. First one since 1977.

merrychristmas

Wishing everyone the happiest of holidays and an extra special, peaceful New Year!

Christmas At Home: Finding Christmas

1b0f119bca5919243ea4a70ccdb8c3d1I really haven’t been in the Christmas mood this year. All the evil, hate and violence going on in the world has taken center stage– at least that’s all that is being spewed through the media. It has made me sad, angry and frustrated. What is wrong with people? It has made it really, really hard to find the Christmas spirit.

I’m so sick of Donald Trump… a hypocritical Congress that lies to the American people outright… and an uprising of action, based completely on fear of what might be versus what is. This is a dark moment in our history. Bah humbug!

So this morning I happened to come across the video of Jordan Smith, the recent winner of The Voice,  and his version of Mary Did You Know trending in social media.

 

It’s good. Really good. Just not as good as Donny Osmond’s 1999 version.

 

 

I like Donny’s version best, not as much for his technique as for his passion and sincerity. It touches me. I think his rendition is a better fit for the true meaning of the song.

This led me to keep searching through my Christmas music. Actually, aside from the repetitive playlist on the FM station in my car… I haven’t listened to much Christmas music this year. And, I just hadn’t found my Christmas moment.

There’s always a single moment or two that defines Christmas for me each year. It’s usually something quiet and simple… and it’s not usually a moment I share. Mostly, because it’s a feeling, it’s personal– and that’s often just too hard to describe.

Anyway, this search through my playlist brought me to My Grown Up Christmas List one of my favorites of all time. In spite of my fondness for the song, I hadn’t listened to it this year.

So I clicked play on Kelly Clarkson’s version of the song… and there it was. My moment. Unexpected. Simple. Pure. A rush of emotion summing up all that I’d been feeling– melting my anger and frustration and giving way to hope. My Christmas moment.

 

 

This song says it all. We claim to be a civilized society. At this time of year, if at no other, I would hope people would search their hearts and find what is truly important.

Peace. Hope. Love. Giving. Sharing.

And perhaps most important of all– living without fear.

Merry Christmas.

Send a Christmas Card & Save the World

diy-christmas-card-photoHave you mailed your Christmas cards yet? Do you send them out or have you stopped altogether? What if you could actually save the world; or perhaps closer to home-  a life — by the simple act of mailing a holiday card? The title of this post may seem a little over dramatic but I stand by the sentiment and I’ll explain why.

No, there is no gimmick or marketing ploy here. I don’t work for a greeting card company and I make this suggestion out of sincere concern for where our society is headed. We are rapidly tossing out traditions in the name of progress and the overused phrase, ‘being more politically correct’. We can say we’re too busy or we’re saving money…. but why not be willing to say you’re too lazy or just don’t care?

I’m not judging anyone here. I realize this just isn’t important to some people. If you choose not to send out cards– for whatever reason; that’s fine by me. BUT– if I can encourage you to just consider participating in this time-old tradition… then it was worth my time.

I just read an opinion piece by someone who is sending out their cards (this year) for the last time. Some of their justifications are: a) not getting enough cards in return, b) thinking the recipient will be disappointed if there isn’t a gift card or cash inside, c) it takes too much effort, and d) it’s easier to just send a message online.

I understand how someone might come to these conclusions but I also think they are shallow assumptions and, well– just plain wrong. I also see some of those excuses as just plain selfishness.

Who doesn’t like receiving Christmas cards? (Unless, it’s because it makes you feel guilty for not mailing them out?) The comments from people attached to the above mentioned story all disagreed with the author’s perceptions and want to receive cards. They like this traditional token of holiday cheer.

So how can a silly thing like sending a card save the world?

Here are a few of my points to consider:

  • Communicate, connect, share. Show someone you care. Isolation can be a terrible thing. Your act of thoughtfulness could be the only positive thing someone experiences today. You may be reaching out to someone in desperate need. Someone you know may be feeling completely alone and disenfranchised. You’re card could go a long way to brighten someone’s day.
  • So much Conservative emphasis is on the cause of world problems being the fault of the breakdown of the family. One of the ways families stay connected is through holidays and traditions. As society places less value on the family, society starts to fail.  Whether it’s a biological family, chosen family or coming together as a community— society needs ways to connect that are positive and unite us– giving us strength. Eliminate traditions… eliminate family and a peaceful society is the next to go.
  • Can’t afford to send everyone gifts? Why not a simple, heartfelt note inside a card? This can mean so much more than a gift that will soon be forgotten. A few kind words letting someone know you are thinking of them can go a long way.
  • The Christmas card tradition keeps many people in different industries employed. Authors, artists & designers, sales, marketing, transportation… all benefit.
  • “It’s easier to say Merry Christmas on Facebook.” Yes, it is easier. It takes no effort at all. I’m not belittling the sentiments– I’m saying it isn’t the same thing. AND– not everyone will see it. If that’s your substitution– it isn’t working.
  • “Christmas cards are a waste of money and negatively affect the environment.” Not true. Many cards are made of recycled paper and can be recycled again. The paper industry, by it’s very existence, contributes positively to the environment through replanting and maintaining forests and environmental systems.
  • “Christmas cards aren’t PC.” Really? The celebration of Christmas goes far beyond religion. How many people do you believe are really offended by Christmas cards? If this is a concern of yours: How about a generic holiday card? It’s the idea behind the card that counts. It’s letting someone know you are thinking about them.

Screen-shot-2012-10-27-at-6.24.06-PMSure, a Christmas card can be viewed as a small, meaningless thing.  How about parades? Can we get rid of those next? And Fourth of July fireworks? Do we really need to celebrate birthdays anymore? If you take cards, along with many other small, meaningless things away– what are you replacing it with? What do you have left? We are slowly chipping away at many of the elements that have allowed society to connect and to function successfully for many years. Individually, they don’t seem like much but they are a small part of a whole.

It’s all about living and sharing.

Call, write, visit…connect. let someone know you care.

Here’s an idea: I’ll go one better… you can get rid of Christmas cards but throw an annual holiday party for all your family and friends instead. Is there any better way to connect and express your appreciation than in person? Holidays are for sharing. Nothing is better than being there and sharing an experience. Only, you’ll have to make sure they’ll all be able to attend on the date you select.

Of course, you’ll also have to send out invitations…. which is a card…