How to Train Your Human: A Guide for Cats

 

WP_20190203_13_15_31_Pro (1)Disclaimer: If you lack a sense of humor, you should stop reading now.

Double Disclaimer: If you lack creativity, you should probably stop reading now too. This will be either the most brilliant or the most stupid thing you have read. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Today’s Guest Post is provided by Jude Anderson AKA one of the cats with whom I live AKA the man of the house that is really in charge here.

Hi, my name is Jude Anderson. After 7 years, I have finally figured out how to train my human and wanted to share it with you today for all the other felines who want to take more control over their household than they already have. After all, the purpose in human staff is to get them to meet our needs.

We all know how to manipulate our humans. Lay on the computer/newspaper/book when they are using it. Look cute and bat things. Chase sunbeams. This past year, I finally figured out how to train my human to overfeed me.

Last year, the veterinarian was concerned about my weight. Something called obesity and diabetes. We all know those things can be fixed with treats, right? Well, somehow, my human thought that this vet person was in charge and started actually measuring my food for both breakfast and dinner.

Can you imagine it? My human was measuring my food.

Sure, I tried all the typical tricks to get extra food. I meowed. I batted my eyelashes. I purred and rubbed up against my human. The food cupboard is impossible to open because it has a magnet on it, so I started pawing at the food cupboard. I made my human feel guilty by giving her pitiful looks while she was cooking dinner. I even stole pieces of my human’s food.

I ate a piece of raw hot dog! Can you believe it! If you want to get your human’s attention, run as fast as you can, grab a piece of hot dog as they are cutting it up, and take that piece of hot dog into hiding. That really gets you attention! I also ate a brussel sprout, but that did not get as much attention as stealing a piece of hot dog.

The typical tricks worked a little. My human started giving me treats. I love treats. It was great. I continued to beg for food even after I had eaten my dinner.

The key to this whole process is begging after dinner. Humans are really busy in the mornings after breakfast. Then they leave to go to this place called “work.” My human says its to pay for cat food, so I guess the whole work thing is okay. I still don’t like it. So, the optimal time for food begging is after dinner.

After dinner is when your human is most vulnerable. Apparently, this thing called “work” makes them tired. Who knew humans needed naps? Cats are the superior ones here. I nap all the time. Anyways, after dinner is when humans are easy to train.

I had this pretty great routine down that was getting me extra treats. Except when my human gave me treats, she also played with me. All this running around works up an appetite!

I decided I needed a partner in crime. I can’t believe my human was measuring my food because the veterinarian told her to do that. Who is in charge of this house? I am!

I have this annoying little brother named Simon. I mean, really, aren’t all little brothers annoying? Well, my little brother is really annoying. My human likes to say his name a lot. Although, I think Simon might be a nickname. Sometimes my human calls him “Simon! I should have named you Alvin.” That’s probably his real name and we use Simon for short.

I got Simon to help me amp up the begging so we could train my human. If you have an annoying little brother, then you can implement the same routine to train your human too.

First, I would start with my begging routine after dinner. The slave – I mean human – always feeds us first, as it should be. Then, the human prepares its own dinner. As the human is preparing dinner, I started my begging to make the human feel guilty like I was being left out. Even though I already ate, it was not fair for the human to be eating and me to not be. Am I right?

I would annoy the human while cooking. You should specifically rub up against your human when they are cooking. They will start screeching about something “hot” and give you treats. It works really well.

Then, after the human ate (and we got treats), I called on Simon to wear my human down.

Simon likes to chew things. I like to chew things too. I chew my toys. We have these stuffed mice that are fun to bite. But anyways, Simon likes to chew things like cords. This makes humans angry – something about being electrocuted – whatever that means. So anyways, get your annoying little brother to chew cords. Your human will stand up to shoo him away so he doesn’t get electrocuted.

Simon would chew cords repeatedly. If you do this often enough, the humans wear down and will do absolutely anything to get you to stop. This means that you will be fed.

Now, this process is not automatic. Training your human takes time. Keep in mind that the human may act out, no matter how well you plan this. When Simon and I first started to train our human, the human would try to do things to counteract Simon.

First, the human put tin foil on the cords for Simon. Boy, was that fun! We ripped the tin foil off and batted it around! Then, the human tried to cover the cords with plastic. That was fun too! The human even started rearranging furniture to try to hide the cords. This was absolutely great because the human made us an amazing obstacle course!

Finally after all these different responses to Simon chewing cords, we wore out our human, and she fed us more food! Our human even made it fun by having us chase kibble!

This was a great game and the best outcome ever! We trained our human to give us a second dinner and play a game of catch with us at the same time!

Keep in mind that it took us quite a few months to train our human. You have to be really persistent to get your human to do what you want. Well, we can’t expect them all to be easily trained, can we?

To summarize how to train your human:

  1. Beg. Use all your typical tricks to get your human to pay attention to you. As cats, we are the center of the universe after all.
  2. If your human does not respond to begging, wait until after dinner when the human is tired.
  3. Enlist your little brother to wear the human down.
  4. Your little brother should come up with a trick that makes your human say his name repeatedly. Getting your human to say your name repeatedly is key to training them.
  5. Be patient. Depending on the human, they can take months to train.
  6. If it’s food you are looking for, be sure to paw at the food cupboard to clearly show the human that they should be feeding you.
  7. Once you get a routine down to train your human, stick with it!

Next, Simon and I are working on getting our human to take us outside. Our human keeps saying things like “leash” and “indoor only.” Once we figure out how to get around these phrases, I’ll let you know how we are doing with training our human.

Until then, happy eating and training!

 

Dog Gone Down

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April is turning out to be an eventful month. Did you know that when people turn 40, that automatically means you are depressed? According to my primary physician it does.

There was an article out of the UK recently that concludes the age at which people are the most unhappy in life is 44. Must be that mid-life crisis setting in. This is a follow-up to the study that was done a few years ago about the happiest age. I’ve written about it before somewhere on this blog… The happiness study concludes that the happiest age is 33. I definitely agree with that. Some pretty awesome things happened in my life when I was 33.

I do not think that just because a person turns 40 automatically means you are depressed. I was so ecstatic (honestly) to turn 40 last month. I have now officially outlived over half of the females in my family. Each decade I keep getting better. Plus, I am able to change age group for running.

My primary physician spent the bulk of my appointment a few weeks ago talking to me about mood disorders, specifically depression. They gave me the depression screening twice – once at the beginning of my appointment and once at the end. I was negative both times. I am not depressed.

This is a great time in my life. Life is not perfect. I’m lacking my dream job. But I’ve already ridden that unicorn, so things right now are pretty awesome. What do I have to be depressed about? I gave it some serious thought. I could not come up with anything.

I figured if my doctor is lecturing me about depression and I don’t feel depressed, that there must be something wrong with me. I’m 40 now, apparently I’m supposed to be depressed. What is up with all the happiness? I should be feeling down.

That lead me to create me own crisis. I’m 40 now, so, according to my doctor, it’s not normal for everything to be good.

Is it just me, or does this entire situation sound messed up?

This leads to Dog Gone Down.

I called one of my therapist friends from when I was in social work and explained the entire situation to her. I said, well, my doctor seems to think I have a mood disorder all of a sudden since I turned 40, so maybe I need therapy. She laughed. Once the laughter subsided, she screened me for depression again. Again, I scored completely negative with no symptoms. Then she asked me what I would talk about in therapy.

Well, Simon’s new trick is knocking the phone off the hook so that it rings busy. I’m trying to get money back in my savings account for house maintenance. I’m planning a half marathon for the fall. Nothing deep. My friend kept giggling and suggested maybe I need a new primary care physician, not a therapist. But to be honest, I’m pretty sure this 40 equals depression thing is pretty pervasive in the medical community here.

This weekend I took a box of towels and blankets to the animal shelter to donate. There are about three animal shelters in a 30 mile radius of me, so I try to rotate which shelter I am donating to so that I am not showing love to just one of the area animal shelters.

I dropped off the box, and, as usual when I make a donation, I walked around the shelter visiting with the animals. I have absolutely no desire to adopt another cat. I already live with two. Jude and Simon run this household, and there is no way I can handle a third boss in charge of my life. But, I enjoy showing the shelter cats some love for an hour or so when I drop something off.

Then, I walked into the dog room. I immediately turned around to walk out because it was just too LOUD. When six or seven dogs are barking at once, it is loud. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move up high. There was a dog on the end who was jumping to see who was there. It was the only dog not barking.

So, I went down to visit him. He looked really lonely. He is one of the longest dogs there. People don’t visit with him because he is so shy. He lays in the cage and just looks at people. I have spent close to 3 hours with this dog and never heard him bark once. When people visit animal shelters to adopt, it is quite common that shy or elderly animals get overlooked. This one is very shy.

And then I thought. This is it! Maybe the doctor was right. Maybe I’m depressed and I NEED A DOG!

Or, rather, a dog would be the perfect crisis to inject into my life right now to totally screw up the little utopia I have going on with my family life at home. Totally acceptable. I can tell the doctor I’m stressed because I have a dog, it will confirm her idea of mood disorder and I’ll be good to go.

This dog really did tug at my heart strings. I have been wanting a dog. If I had the house a year earlier, Simon would have been a dog and not a cat. However, since buying the house, I just figured I would wait until both Jude & Simon pass away and then get a dog. I was not thinking of getting a dog right now. But this dog was so polite. He is trained and has manners. I just fell in love.

The shelter rule is that you have to fill out an adoption application to visit with a dog. I filled one out so I could visit with him and pet him. He was so well behaved and trained that I was seriously considering adoption, but needed more time and visits. I let the shelter know I was interested.

This morning they called and said my adoption application had been approved and wanted to know when I was picking him up?

What?

I am not sure if I am ready for a dog. I need more visits and to see what he is like outside and on a leash. I have never even walked a dog on a leash before. I have walked cats on a leash plenty of times, but never a dog.

The dog is scheduled to be neutered tomorrow and will need time to recover from surgery, so I took the afternoon off to visit him again so I could see him outside and try him on the leash.

That was the worst experience of my life. I am never getting a dog. I grew up with dogs, but I have been living with cats for the past 20 years. Apparently, with a dog, the human has to be in charge. I don’t have the personality for it. In my house, my cat is in charge.

Walking a dog on a leash was the worst experience of my life. I may possibly be injured.

The shelter does not allow people to walk dogs on their own, so he was doubled leashed. I am so thankful for this rule.

I was dragged.

I think I blew out my knee again. No exaggeration. My leg from my ankle up through my hip and back hurt. My arm hurts from my wrist to my shoulder. I am really worried about my knee. It’s also the knee that had a serious injury a few years ago.

The shelter told me that this dog is the easiest one to walk in the kennel. They have an 80 year old volunteer who loves walking this dog because he is so easy to walk. Well, that’s great, but I was still dragged. If I cannot handle this dog with a shelter staff helping me, there is no way I will be able to handle him on my own.

The shelter staff tried explaining “well, he can be trained …” I get that, but at the same time, I will not be able to train him. I will be injured and none of us will be going anywhere. Plus, I was really worried about how Jude and Simon would take the sudden appearance of a dog in our lives.

So, lesson learned. The dog is gone. Well, not really. I never had the dog to begin with. He is still in the shelter. My heart still breaks for him because he is the sweetest dog. No one looks at him because he is so shy. I’m sure if an experienced dog owner could overlook the shyness, they would be able to handle him on a leash and he would be an amazing companion. For EXPERIENCED dog walkers, he is great on a leash. As a 100-pound person who has never walked a dog before, I cannot handle being dragged by a 50 pound dog.

When Kip was alive, he walked on a leash quite frequently. He loved it. Sometimes, he would take off and chase a leaf or something. Being dragged by a 14 pound cat is way different. I can handle that. I would like to leash train Jude and Simon, but they want nothing to do with it.

Don’t tell me to try for a smaller dog. I don’t want a smaller dog. I would just have a cat. I don’t think I’m meant to have a dog. It was just this one that stole my heart.

So, maybe I can be down because the dog is gone. It is very sad that such a great pet is in a shelter. Or, maybe I will continue to argue with my primary care physician that not only am I not depressed, but I am very happy because my life is pretty good right now.

When I go to sleep tonight, I have two amazing cats who love me and snuggle me in bed every night. Really, it doesn’t get much better than that.

I could tell her how stressful it is living in the house because it is so LOUD here. I miss my apartment because it was quiet. But, I don’t think that makes me depressed. I am more annoyed at the noise and unruliness of the neighborhood where the house is compared to the apartment.

Bottom line, I’ve tried dog gone down, and it just doesn’t work.

This 40-year old lives with two cats and is happy.

My Best Decade

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Today is my 40th birthday. Birthdays are my favorite holiday. They are proof I’m still here and survived another year of what life threw at me. 40 is great because I get to move up another age group in running. 40 is significant because I have now outlived my paternal grandmother, who passed away from a stroke at age 39. Each decade I’m alive keeps getting better, so here’s hoping that 40 is awesome.

Looking back on my 30s, they were pretty amazing. My 30s were definitely better than my 20s.

The three major challenges I had in my 30s were the heartache of Kip’s death, the heartache of Kitty’s death, and my stroke at age 37. There were other really bad things too, but these three were the worst.

With those notable exceptions, my 30s were (so far) my best decade.

In random, but somewhat chronological order, here are 10 things that made my 30s the best decade ever:

  1. I completed my bachelor’s degree.

It took 15 years to do so. In those 15 years, I did get an associate’s degree, live in at least 4 different states, battle homelessness, and work 3 jobs 60-70 hours per week, but I got it done. My bachelor’s degree was the only degree for which I was not valedictorian, and it was the only graduation ceremony I attended. Out of all my degrees, finishing my bachelor’s was definitely not only the most challenging, but also the most fun.

  1. I ran marathons.

More than one. I’ve ran in Philly, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Scranton, and a few other cities. Each one is precious. I ran a marathon down the longest street in the world (true story). I ran my first point-to-point (city-to-city) marathon. I represented Team USA internationally. I had the opportunity to run into an Olympic Stadium (not during an actual Olympics). I’ve gotten a high five at the finish line from the Mayor of a major American city.  I’ve had limo service to my pre-race dinner as a “visiting athlete.” My medals actually mean more than my degrees.

  1. I got to see my MLB team play on home turf.

Every baseball fan should have this experience at least once in their life. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it is completely magical to be at the stadium on game day, to watch the maintenance people prep the lawn, and then finally see your heroes take the field to play the best game on Earth. If you have not yet had this experience, it should definitely be on your bucket list. Pro sports tickets are extremely expensive, but try to save to go just once. It’s one of my favorite memories of all time.

  1. I got to see my MLB team win the World Series (on TV, not in person).

This is another experience that everyone should have at least once in their life. I’ve seen road wins and I’ve seen home wins. The home win is just something everyone should be able to experience once. No one should have to die without having seen their team win the World Series.

  1. I fell in love.

You hear this all the time. In my 20s, the remark was almost flippant. In my 30s, this phrase took on meaning. I don’t mean the lightning strike love-at-first-sight moment that is a complete whirlwind and then all of a sudden fizzles. I’m talking about the kind of love where you have known a person for decades through good and bad and are 100% supportive of that person, even when they are doing things that are not necessarily great. I’m not talking about being a door mat. I’m talking about actually being someone’s partner and having the ability to love a person so much that you are always there for them even if their life choices take them away from you. The kind of love that you know that is your person and there is no one else you click with like that, who knows you so well.

  1. I finished my Master’s degree.

If my bachelor’s degree seemed an impossibility, then grad school was a pipe dream. I actually think I was in the final year of my bachelor’s when I started asking people to explain grad school to me. No one in my family had ever even gone to college and the only people I knew with graduate degrees were my professors. It was like some hidden Holy Grail that I was finally able to unlock. I am now a Jill of all trades and master of ONE!

  1. I rode the unicorn into extinction.

By this I mean that I had that elusive experience of all adulthood – I had my dream job. I had a job I loved so much that it didn’t feel like work. I just showed up to do what I wanted to do – what I had spent 20 years of my life preparing to do – and happened to get paid to do that every day. I would have been so happy to do that every single day until I died or retired. How many people in this country have the privilege of being able to say “I love what I do” and actually mean it? Or should I say, how many people can actually say “I love what I do” and are getting paid to do it at a level that meets all their living expenses. All dreams must come to an end, and the company I worked for decided to pull out of New York State. So I rode the unicorn to the end of the rainbow not to find a pot of gold like I had expected, but just an empty void that I still have not figured out how to fill. Once you’ve had your dream job, nothing else will ever live up to that experience. Especially when the job you find to replace the dream doesn’t even respect you. Now, this is extinction.

  1. I bought a house.

If my masters degree was a pipe dream, well, I’ll tell you right now that buying a home was never on my radar. At all. I have never lived in a house. I have spent a chunk of my life being homeless. I never figured a “person like me” would even own a home. I never entertained the idea or even saved for one. Owning a home was a joke. My back-up plan for housing was – well, if things go bad, I’ll just move back to Massachusetts or buy a house, insert excessive laughter literally rolling on the floor laughing here. Buying a house is one of the scariest things I have ever done in life. So far, it’s also been one of the best choices I have ever made. I kept my family together and the cats are so much happier here than they were in the apartment. Funny, I never thought they were unhappy in the apartment, it’s just a contrast to see how well they are doing in the house.

  1. Anything less than 110% is … okay?

I spent almost 25 years of my life burning the candle at both ends. I slept 4 hours a day. I worked 3 jobs to make ends meet because really, who can survive on minimum wage? I worked 60-70 hours per week while going to school full-time working on my degrees. I excelled in school. Some call me an overachiever. So, when my stroke completely knocked me down a few years ago, it is quite a shock to only operate at abut 86%. Which, by the way, is considered my “level of functioning.” I am also considered “fully recovered.” Even though the doctors consider me fully functional, it is hard for me to accept that this is all I can do now. I’m used to doing so much more. What my stroke has taught me, is that it is okay to slow down. I can rest and still get things done. I’m pretty grateful to have learned this lesson now and be at 86% than to have just worked myself into the ground – it could have been worse. Listen to your body is the greatest lesson I have learned in my 30s.

  1. Family First

Family first has been carrying me through life since Kitty, as a 4-month old kitten, first climbed up onto my shoulders at the animal shelter and would not get down when I was 19. He picked me out. I took him home. We were together until he passed away from cancer just before his 19th birthday. Every major life choice I have made has centered around keeping my family together. Through everything that has happened with work, school, running, and health, at the end of the day, I come home to my furkids. They are always here, happy to see me with unconditional love. Family first is the tenant that will carry me into my 40s. As long as we are all together, everything is okay. My primary job is keeping us all together, loving my cats and being loved by them.

Of course, none of this would be possible without God. That’s the bottom line. God has done great things in my life through my 30s. I can’t wait to see what’s next for 40. Thanks for making my 30s my best decade so far.

My life verses:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. Through suffering, these bodies of ours constantly share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NLT)

Two Little Birds

Earlier this week at church, we had a “paint and sip” fundraiser for an upcoming missions trip. It was my first time participating in a paint and sip (the sipping was sparkling cider and hot cocoa). The attraction to the event was that it was a fundraiser and the painting was two birds in a tree.

As I have been gradually settling into the house, it has been fun for each room to have a theme. In the apartment, the only room that really had a theme was the kitchen. The theme was fruit. In the house, the fruit theme does not seem to really go anymore. The kitchen theme is now birds.

The bird theme simply fits. The cats and I both love all of the windows in the kitchen because they are optimal for bird viewing. Since I live with two indoor only cats, bird watching is their primary form of “outdoor” entertainment.

The kitchen windows are original to the house and an unusual size for modern day window treatments. I purchased fabric and have hand sewn curtains not only for the kitchen but also for most of the downstairs of the house. The kitchen curtains are red cardinals on a blue background.

The kitchen walls are blue and I have exposed red brick in half of my kitchen. Red and blue come naturally to the room.

Our new Fiesta dishware are solid colors that will go with any theme. So the key decor elements to the new kitchen theme of “birds” are the curtains, the wall calendar, and the tea bag holder. I am also looking for bird place mats. I may make them myself – we will see.

With the paint and sip at the church this week, I have added my painting to the kitchen to complement the bird theme. In addition to being my first paint and sip, the painting was significant to me for another reason.

The example painting showed two black birds sitting in a tree looking up at a red heart. I was the only one in a room of about 20 who painted my birds something other than black. For me, it was very important to specifically paint a blue bird on the left and a red bird on the right. I made my heart pink so that I would not have both a red bird and a red heart.

Why was I so specific on this painting?

For me, the painting signifies a way to include Kip and Kitty (both deceased) in the new house. Yes, I brought their urns to the house when we moved. However, I hold some guilt over the fact that when they were both alive, life was very difficult for us.

Kip and Kitty had both experienced homelessness with me. I’m pretty sure that months on end of living in the car may have been a contributing factor to Kitty’s anxiety disorder. When I bought the house, it was a huge relief to have permanent housing – something I have struggled to obtain my entire life. I first remember being homeless at age 4, and it occurred on and off for many years after.

Kip and Kitty did not live long enough to see the house. They never experienced “permanent” housing, although the 14 years I spent in the apartment was the most stable housing experience in my life up until the last 6 months I was in the apartment.

So, the blue bird on the left in the painting is for Kip. The red bird on the right in the painting is for Kitty. Blue was Kip’s color, and it seemed to fit his personality. Kip was very happy-go-lucky, and blue makes me think of a blue bird of happiness. Kip was also left hand dominant. I did a red bird for Kitty, because red was always his color. His favorite blanket was red and Kitty was primarily right handed.

I’m also drawn to the old legend surrounding red cardinals. There is a saying that a red cardinal is like a loved one in Heaven saying Hello. In the few months we have been in the house, we have seen both blue birds and red cardinals outside.

It’s probably really corny, but for me, this painting of two little birds helps me feel like Kip and Kitty are included in the house even though neither of them lived long enough to see it. Kitty had been with me almost 19 years before he succumbed to cancer. Kitty was with me longer than any human being in my life. Kitty was with me through every major struggle.

Jude and Simon are here now and are benefiting from the stability that has finally been achieved in my life. I’ve never seen Jude as happy as he is being in this house. His attitude since being in the house is like night and day from being in the apartment.

The three of us are very happy in the house. The painting of the two little birds in the kitchen makes me fee like Kip and Kitty are in Heaven looking down on us. I’m sorry they aren’t here to see the house, but I know that Heaven is a much better place to be. And who knows? Maybe in Heaven, Kip and Kitty are in a house just like this one waiting for me, Jude and Simon to join them.

 

Home is Where the Cats Are

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Jude in the new house Christmas 2018

Many people get upset and emotional when they move from a place where they lived for a long time. It’s understandable. There was a lot of living done and may memories created when we stay in one place for a long time.

You would think that I would have had an emotional reaction when I moved out of the apartment I had lived in for 14 years. It was the longest I had ever lived in one place and the only place I lived that ever truly felt like home.

The second day I was in the house, I had a single moment of meltdown. I remember sitting on the bed in the new house, tired, dirty, drained, and stressed, crying because I wanted to go home and didn’t know where that was. Ten minutes later the moment passed, and I continued with unpacking boxes and getting settled into the house. That was the only “moment” I’ve had.

When some people move to a new location after living someplace for a long time, they will have a moment of confusion when driving and accidentally drive towards the “old house” before realizing that they have to take a new way home now. I’ve heard of this happening, but have never experienced it myself. From day one of when I moved, it was pretty clear to me where I was supposed to be.

I always return to where ever my cats are. I knew exactly where my cats were, so that’s where I go, no question. Home is where the cats are.

Within two hours of closing on my house, I moved the cats. The cats moved first before anything else.

I know that when moving with pets, this is counter intuitive. You are not supposed to move the pets first. You are supposed to move them last so that they do not get lost. In my case, I had to move them first before I even gave notice to the landlord that I was leaving. I had to be sure that the cats were safe and stably housed, since they were part of the “problem” for a landlord who was going pet-free.

Once the cats were in the house, this is just where I return. Every day. Every time I go out.

I think this is part of why I am NOT emotional over the whole move. Other than my one “moment,” which I think was mostly exhaustion and frustration from the move (who wouldn’t be exhausted and frustrated when moving?), I haven’t had any other break downs over the move.

I moved and did not look back. Yes, the situation was unfortunate. I am mostly mad at the circumstances of the move – that it was a forced move and not something of my own volition. However, the goal in that hellish situation was always to keep my family together. By purchasing a home, I have been able to keep the three of us together. That’s all that really matters.

People ask me if I like the house. I like it well enough. It is taking some time to get used to. It does not feel like “home” yet. That will come in time. I hate the stairs – I never wanted a two story house. I love my kitchen. It’s my favorite kitchen I’ve ever had anyplace I have lived or ever seen anywhere.

What is most important, is that the cats are happy here. They each have their favorite window for optimal bird viewing. I am so happy there are birds here for them to watch, as that was one of their favorite activities in the apartment. They seem to be happy. They both cuddle with me.

Jude has been spending a lot of time rolling around and on his back. He did that a little bit in the apartment, especially when I first adopted him. Jude likes to roll. However, I noticed on Christmas that he was so happy over one of his presents that he laid on his back with all his legs in the air. I’ve seen him do that a few times in the new house. He never did that in the apartment. I’m thinking he must like the new house if he is that comfortable here to expose himself like that.

Over the past 4 months we have been in the house, Jude spends less and less time hiding in the kitchen cupboard. In fact, the only time I see him go in there now is when someone comes to visit. Sometimes, he doesn’t even go in the cupboard, he finds other places to hide. The fact that Jude is so comfortable in the house that he no longer hides in the cupboard on a regular basis speaks volumes.

Simon is happy every place. This is the cat that even purrs at the vet office when getting his rabies vaccine. Nothing seems to phase Simon. Except thunderstorms. We discovered this summer that Simon is terrified of thunderstorms.

We are still getting settled into the house. We are getting into new routines and moving things around. We are all together, and that is what is most important.

I literally could have lived anywhere. Given the situation when the new landlord took over the apartment building last spring, I was fully prepared to be homeless again and was trying to figure out how to live in my car or an RV or someplace with both cats. I’m really glad that it did not come to that, but I was literally prepared to live anywhere with them. We are a family and we have to stay together.

So while it doesn’t really matter where we live as long as we are all together, this house is by far the nicest place we have ever lived. It’s home because this is where my cats are located. I come home to them every night.

As long as Jude and Simon like the house, then I’m happy.

Home is where the cats are.

Ferals in the Neighborhood

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Jude and Simon love looking out windows. They are avid bird watchers. One of the things I knew we would miss when moving from the apartment to the house was the sliding glass door that was on the second floor apartment. The cats loved looking out this and watching all the birds in the trees.

Even though there is no sliding glass door in the house, the cats are enjoying all of the windows just the same. We have finally settled into a routine and I have identified Simon’s favorite window and Jude’s favorite window. When I identified Jude’s favorite window, I took the cat tree and put it in front of it. The cat tree was in front of the sliding glass door in the apartment, so now it is in front of Jude’s favorite window in the house. Simon’s favorite window in the house already has an ample perch for him to bird watch. (He sits on a chair.)

Something new that we have all noticed outside since moving to the neighborhood are outdoor cats. The apartment was on a very busy highway and all cats were indoor only. We never saw any outdoor cats at the apartment. There are many outdoor cats in the neighborhood at our new house.

I have pretty much been able to figure out which cat goes to which house. I may not know all the human neighbors, but I know all the neighborhood cats and roughly where they belong.

There is one cat that I jokingly call Jude’s girlfriend. We will call her “Lucy.” When Jude sees Lucy out the window, he gets really still and intent. He watches her closely. If she is walking down the sidewalk and leaves his frame of view, he will race to the next window just to see her. He does not seem agitated or aggressive, just very, very interested. Lucy seems interested in Jude too. The closest she has come to looking at him through the window is our front steps.

There are other cats Jude sees out the window, who must be male. Jude puffs all up and growls. Sometimes he even turns around and growls at Simon because he cannot take out his aggression on the outdoor cat.

There is one cat in particular that upsets Jude and he continuously takes it out on Simon. Simon is black and white. He is pretty much equally black and white. The outside cat in question is also black and white, except this cat is almost all black with just a little white on his chest. I think Jude gets confused because the outside cat looks so much like Simon and then takes out his aggression on his brother. We will have to work on that.

We have already had well over a foot of snow and days below zero. As winter has progressed, I have noticed that I do not see the outdoor cats anymore. They are being kept inside their houses, which is great. They should be inside when it is negative 12 out.

The one exception is this black cat with the little bit of white on him who absolutely pisses Jude off when he sees him outside. Since I have gotten sick of just referring to him as the outside cat, I am calling him “Clarence.”

I am pretty sure Clarence is homeless. Like genuinely homeless.

He is the only cat in the neighborhood I still see outside in bad weather. He is outside all the time. I see his footprints in the snow all over.

As the temperature has plummeted, I am concerned. I see him huddled in places.

My garage door is open year round. There isn’t really anything in the garage except garden rakes, snow shovels and the garbage can. I firmly believe that a garage is for parking my car inside not for storing stuff. I refuse to be one of those Americans who has a garage so full of stuff that you can’t fit the vehicle inside. I have a hard time putting the garage door up and down, so I just leave it up. Apparently the prior homeowner did the same.

The point is, my garage door is up, and I noticed that Clarence would dash inside to hide from the elements. It makes sense. It’s probably one of the easiest shelters for him to find.

I probably shouldn’t have done this – I’m either a sucker or just a soft heart, but I went online and read about feral cat shelters. I strongly dislike the idea of Clarence being outside in such frigid weather. I’ve been homeless myself and I know how much winter sucks without permanent shelter.

I made a feral cat shelter out of a storage tote, some styrofoam, and one of my old space blankets from a marathon. These are the blankets they drape on us after a race to retain heat. They work. The website said to use straw, but I couldn’t find any. It said not to use blankets or towels because they retain moisture, but I did put a fleece blanket inside in lieu of the straw.

I put the cat shelter up on a pallet in the garage to keep it off the cold concrete floor. I have no idea if Clarence actually goes inside for warmth or not, but I feel better knowing it is there as an option for him.

On the days the thermometer has dipped below zero, I took one of my microwaveable rice bags, heated it and put it inside the shelter twice a day.

People have been saying that I will now never get rid of him. Some people say I should just let him in the house. My thought is that I don’t want him in the house. I am okay with him outside. I already have two cats and they are all I can deal with as far as family members. Ideally, I would like to either trap, neuter, release (TNR) or trap and take him to a shelter. We will see.

Part of the reason why I think he is truly homeless is that he is very skittish. He runs away. The only time I see him is through the window. If I am outside or open the door, he runs away. He is either not used to humans period or was/is abused. All of the other neighborhood cats are friendly. They will at least walk past you on the sidewalk and some will even rub up on your legs if you let them. Clarence is not friendly. At all. He is also the only neighborhood cat still outside in all weather and temperatures.

The other thing I noticed was Clarence licking my front steps for water. I felt bad. So, sucker again, I set out a water bowl. I just don’t think any human or animal should have to go without water. That’s not right.

I figured that if I am wrong about Clarence being a boy, that I would just call the girl Clare. Clarence is the name of the angel in the Wonderful Life movie. However, I am pretty certain Clarence really is a boy. His footprints are rather large, plus Jude strongly dislikes him.

The other reason why I am pretty sure Clarence is a boy is that someone sprayed (peed on) one of the snow shovels outside. I am pretty sure it was Clarence. I don’t think he has been fixed. While I am not sure if he is actually using the cat shelter or not, it is pretty clear that he is marking that space as his “territory.”

This whole experience of outdoor cats is new to me. My cats are indoor only because they are beloved family members and I would be too worried if they went outside. Various people tell me not to feed them or whatever because then you won’t get rid of them. But if they are truly homeless, shouldn’t we try to help somehow? Trap, neuter, release (TNR) to reduce the homeless cat population or trap and take to an animal shelter to be adopted. I cannot take strays into my home, but I can at least help support the homeless population. I can’t just leave them outside to dehydrate and freeze.

Right now the only homeless cat in question is Clarence. I have read about feral colonies on the internet. There is not currently a colony here. All the other outside neighborhood cats appear to have houses. Except this one.

Isn’t that what life is all about? Trying to change the life or make a difference in the life of one person? I’m just trying to offer resources to a homeless cat to survive the winter. I am pretty sure that he would survive without my help, but as someone who has experienced homelessness in my own life, I just can’t stand by and watch.

Do you have feral cats in your neighborhood? Any experience with building outside cat shelters? How do you interact with homeless cats?

 

Midlife Anti-Crisis

WP_20180902_14_28_45_Pro.jpgAbove: I have the best and most blinged-out mailbox on the block thanks to my friends.

The midlife crisis is a way to rage against complacency, stagnation and stability. Tales of shiny red corvettes, new hair styles and relationships embody the stereotypical midlife crisis. Midlife is typically the time when you “arrive” in life – you are well-established in your profession, are comfortable in your mortgage, and are raising a family with a long-term partner. The midlife crisis is a way to shake up the hum drum of the everyday.

I’m here to tell you that I am NOT having a midlife crisis. I’m having a midlife ANTI-crisis.

Remember my housing crisis (genuine crisis) I have been having since May 2018? Well, here we are in September 2018 and I have effectively solved my housing situation.

I bought a house. #Boom. #ProblemSolved

I have never even lived in a house in my life and now I own one. Over the course of my life, I’ve gone from homeless to home owner.

While most people my age are trying to shake things up a bit, I am looking for stability and a sense of permanence. I needed a place to live that I could afford and keep my family together. Since the new landlord that bought my apartment building raised the rent to well over 60% of my income and is going pet-free, I needed a place to live.

All the rentals in my area are “no pets.” Or, they only allow one pet. Would you be able to choose which of your children to put up for adoption in order to keep your housing? Me neither. We are a family and we stay together.

The only viable option for me to be able to keep my family together was to buy a house and I have done so. By the way, my mortgage (including taxes and insurance) is almost $400 a month LESS than what the new landlord was going to charge me in “market rate” rent.

I’m going to live in this house until I die. While most people are bored with life, I’m just getting started. This is my midlife anti-crisis.

We just moved in last Thursday and have been here less than one week. Within the first 24 hours of home ownership, I already had an “idiot call” to the plumber. I broke down sobbing one night at bedtime saying I wanted to go home, but didn’t know where that was. I have used every tool in both my toolboxes. I don’t know the names of the tools, but I know what they do and I have used them all.  

I have a real mailbox with a real flag for the first time in my life. I have curbside garbage pickup for the first time too. I have more cuts, bruises and sore muscles that I have ever had in any of my 15 marathons.

I have been on vacation from work during this, and have pretty much “vacationed” at Lowe’s – I’ve been there every day. Some days, I’ve been there twice. I have been amazed at what I can fit in my 4-door sedan, and humbled by the many people who have been helping me and checking on me.

I successfully assembled a lawn mower and used it. I bought an old fashioned push mower. I only have .11 worth of grass to be in charge of. I mowed my own lawn for the first time. Mowing a lawn is some level of hell Dante forgot to mention in his inferno, but now that it’s done for the week, it’s kind of comical. One of my neighbors came out to check on me, and I could not tell from his reaction whether he was laughing inside, genuinely concerned about my efforts or both, but I’m sure I amused the neighborhood.

I have a detached garage and this was my first time in 24 years of driving that I have had a garage in which to park my car. Someone came to visit me while I was assembling the lawn mower, and I texted them to say I was “in the garage.” Hey, it was exciting to me.

I have a front porch where I’m writing now. I don’t think I have sat down for 4 days straight. I have plenty of chairs for all the people who have been helping and visiting. If it weren’t for my friends, I would not have been able to laugh through any of this.

Simon is adjusting slowly but surely. Jude has not left the kitchen cabinetry. I’m sure it will take time. I don’t think they realize what I had to go through to keep us all together. I was so scared that if this had not worked out, we would have been living in the car (again). We finally were able to escape anti-pet greedy people.

My goal is to get settled by the end of this week so that next week we can get into some sort of regular home owning family routine. The past week has literally been the ride of my life. I never thought I would own a home. I’m just happy that I was able to keep the family together.

While everyone else is having a midlife crisis, I am happily learning the positives and negatives of home ownership. Based on my first few days, I can tell you that this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Hopefully, it will be worth it.

So far, it’s already worth being away from the toxic situation I endured with the new landlord over the past few months. It’s scary to think of all the responsibility that comes with a house, but at the same time, I get all the rewards.

So far, the time I spend on my new front porch with friends is the best time ever. It almost makes up for the fact that I sacrificed my camping trip, marathon, and summer beach days. Almost.

I have a lot to learn on this new journey. Instead of shunning responsibility, I am embracing it. This is my midlife anti-crisis.

Welcome home.

 

Redefining Freedom

My family – Jude, age 6 (right), Simon, age 2 (left)

Freedom means different things to different people depending on circumstances. For many, travel means freedom. It is even popularized in a commercial as being “free to roam the country.” I had this grand Freedom at Forty plan that I would finally be able to go someplace to have a stamp in my passport.

While I would love to travel, I have had some life circumstances lately that are not only making travel impossible, but literally threatening my day-to-day existence. When faced with a life-changing crisis, we quickly realize where our priorities are and fight to make sure they are met. For me, that means that this year I am redefining freedom.

Freedom now means the ability to live with my family someplace safe and in peace. As long as the three of us get to stay together, nothing else matters. This has always been my first priority, but it tends to become more pronounced when your family unit is threatened with ultimatums such as “separate or get out,” or “choose between your children because you have too many.” Sometimes even just keeping a family together feels like a losing battle.

That losing battle straddles a fine line between freedom and survival. There are ways to keep families together and survive. It could be living in a car, a RV, or migrating somewhere new where you will hopefully be able to stay together safely. Freedom is more than survival. Freedom is being able to keep your family together in a way that enables you all to be comfortable, safe and to build a life where you can transcend survival and be able to thrive.

Right now, I am in survival mode trying to keep my family together and find safe, affordable housing that will accept us as a family unit. I’m hoping that the Fourth of July will be some sort of good luck charm to finding freedom to live with my family intact.

It’s pretty sad in this land of alleged plenty that keeping a family together is seen as a privilege and not a right. If keeping a family together is a privilege, then we truly are not free at all. Everything can be taken from you with only a moment’s notice – including those you hold dear. The whole point of minimalism is not to have nothing. The point of minimalism is to have just what you need so you can focus on what’s important. Being able to be a minimalist is also a sense of privilege in a country where some people are struggling to obtain even just what they need and to hold onto what’s important.

Freedom should include the right to keep a family together. As people spend the Fourth of July having barbeques and watching fireworks with their family, they should think about whether that family is a right or a privilege. Currently, in this country and as I am seeing in my own life right now, family is a privilege. True freedom would include the right to keep a family together in a safe environment.

The Fourth of July is also an anniversary. It was Fourth of July weekend back in the late 90s that I moved from Massachusetts to New York. I have gone back and forth over the years whether or not that movement was something I regret.

I have come to the conclusion that I do not regret leaving Massachusetts because of the positive things that have happened since I arrived in New York. I was finally able to achieve my degrees and I would not trade a single minute with my family to go back and do it over differently. However, the moving that I did that long ago Fourth of July weekend has had significant impact on the course of my life over the past 20 years.

While I do miss Massachusetts and wish I could afford to move back, I realize that in New York, I achieved a level of freedom that I would not trade. I now have education to bring in income that buys freedom (unless you are looking for affordable housing). I have the freedom of being with my family and that is the greatest gift I have ever received.

This Fourth of July, I am redefining freedom. My Freedom at Forty plan no longer includes international travel. Given my current circumstances, that is not a realistic goal. This year, I am redefining freedom as the ability to keep my family together. If I can keep us together in safe, affordable, stable housing that will be even better. The outcome is yet to be seen.

How are you redefining freedom this Fourth of July? What does freedom mean to you?  

 

The End of An Era


My 18 year old passed away from cancer in April. It was the hardest experience of my life. Kitty and I have been together since he was 4 months old, and I was 19. He taught me how to be an adult. I grew up for him. I had to be sure I could provide food, shelter, and medical care. I’m sure that if it wasn’t for my furballs, I would have continued on the downward spiral I was on at that point in my life and continued to live on my car/in the streets, or worse.

Kitty, as you may know from this post was predeceased by Kip. Together, they constituted the dynamic duo. After Kip passed away, Kitty and I adopted Jude. While Kitty and Jude bonded extremely well, they did not have the depth of connection held by Kip and Kitty. With Kitty’s passing, it is truly the end of an era.

The past month or so has been extremely hard for me, I feel like I go through many of my days on autopilot. Some days, I am unable to determine if I am having trouble because I messed up on my post-stroke medication (I didn’t) or if I am having trouble simply because I am so upset (more probable). I feel dead inside. It’s hard to say goodbye to someone who greeted you at the door every day, who slept with you every night, and was your constant companion for almost two decades.

The hardest part about the entire situation is that, let’s face it: Cancer sucks. This was not a clear cut illness as it was when Kip died of pancreatitis. Kitty turn a turn for the worse, and even with pain killers was still in pain. I could not let him continue like that. If I could have traded places with him and took the pain for him, I would have.

I’m sure I will have more clarity on the situation when I am able to fully function again. For now, our family of three is now a family of two. Jude and I have been trying to figure out what that means. In his own way, Jude is grieving too. It’s not just about me. The hardest part is that Kitty was the child I never had, my best friend, and my life partner. I am at a loss currently on how to move forward without him.

I am thankful that these past few years I have made a concerted effort to slow down my life so that I was able to spend as much time with Kitty as possible. While he has been a huge part of my life for 18 years, I was the only person in his. The steps I have taken the past few years in minimalism have helped me to focus on what is most important in life: the people and activities that bring me happiness and joy.

I have been quiet the past few months dealing with Kitty’s illness and my own. There are always challenges in life. How you respond to those challenges are a reflection of the type of person you are. Hopefully soon, I will be sharing some ways in which I am moving forward and some changes that are happening in my household.

For now, I am still hurting. That is okay. It’s healthiest to feel feeling and be able to work through them instead of shoving them aside. I am thankful that I have had a better support network in working through Kitty’s death than I had back when Kip died.

It is the end of an era in my life, and I am now facing uncertainty. One of my good friends told me recently that you don’t ever “get over” something like this; you have to “go through.” It’s hard to go through when you feel like you are stuck. If there is one thing I have learned running marathons, it is to keep moving. Walk, run, dragged, or crawl, you have to cross the finish line.

I’ll be sharing more in the future about the changes I am making as I make my way through this difficult time in life. For now, I am thankful that I have been rewinding my life real slow so I could focus on what is most important.