Mowgli–see also, why I shouldn’t binge watch Netflix

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My favorite cat has gone missing. The last time I saw Mowgli was early in the morning a week ago Friday when I shooed him away from the front door with my foot (something that while I always do gently, leaves me with some amount of guilt, wondering if that will be the last time I see him and the last memory he’ll have of me–see, I had it coming) just before pouring a cup of cat food in his bowl before dashing off to work.

Shane says he saw Mowgli on Sunday morning as Shane too filled up Mowgli’s bowl.

The bowl still sits, full of food, under the table on which is an extra cup of cat food in the event he is hungry again.

“Mowgli? Mowww-gli? MOWWWWWW-gli?” I pop out my head and call, just for good measure, every night as I check the front door, more desperate every day.

“Do you think he is stuck somewhere?” I ask Shane.

“He’s such a good cat, someone may have taken him home,” Shane responds.

He is a good cat. And that is why we are both working so hard to avoid the worst case scenarios.

“If someone would have taken him he would have found a way to get out and he would have come home,” I said. Wistfully recalling every single story I’ve heard or read about a cat traveling weeks, days, miles, and years, to return to its beloved family.

***********

This morning I was down in Zack’s old room working on Zack’s quilt. Zack’s room was also the sick room where Mowgli recuperated when a big chunk of his tail got chewed up in one of his fights. And also where he recovered after we got him fixed, hoping to curb the cat fights. It is also there, curled up on Zack’s bed, where we most often found Mowgli all those times when he snuck into the house.

Meow.

It was faint and at first I thought I was imagining it.

Meow.

I turned off my music to listen again.

Meow.

I jumped up from my table, yelled to Zack, who was upstairs, and called “Mowgli?”

I looked under the bed. Pulled away the big box along the wall, thinking maybe he was somehow pinned behind it. [note: at the same time I was desperately searching, hoping, the logical part of me is completely aware that a). if that's where Mowgli had been all this time we would definitely have heard from him before now and b). if he had been trapped there for a 10 days he would not still be alive.]

Meow.

I frantically started ripping open the box. [I stopped just short of stringing up Christmas lights and painting the alphabet on the wall, but the desperation was real.]

“MOWGLI?!”

And then it hit me.

Because Mowgli had spent so much time in that room, I’m allergic. So we had opened the windows before getting to work down there.

Still, I [or at least the wanting, hopeful part of myself] thought. Mowgli has come home and he knows we are down there and he is calling to us.

I excitedly pushed aside the vertical blinds. “Mowgli!” I cried.

But it was Capone, Mowgli’s mother, rubbing her fur up against the window screen. Even though they didn’t get along and chose to live separate existences–Capone on the back porch with our lab, Ginger, and Mowgli out front or curled up in the garage or wandering the neighborhood, looking for a potted plant in which to sun himself–I wonder if Capone misses him too.

No words exist for the disappointment I felt. Still feel. He has a piece of my heart.

Mowgli

Still holding on to hope.

Birthdays

happybirthdayI joke about being too young for a memoir, but the truth is, the title of my memoir has been in existence for quite a few years now. “We may as well eat that darn cake.”

It’s not a pretty story, but it is the truth. And amidst the pretty travel photos and posts about funny things our kids said or did, there is certainly room for the rest of the stories that compose our existence. Being real about our sorrows seems capable of connecting us even more deeply than sharing our joys.

My birthday is three days before Christmas. While the story before I recall it is all about how excited my parents were for their firstborn child and The Best Gift song on Barbra Streisand’s Christmas album annually reminds me how much joy that first birth day brought, the truth since is that my birthday smack dab in the one of the busiest seasons of the year has also generally been a source of stress for people already busy and stressed over Christmas. (post edit: I guess I’m in good company?)

This particular birthday was important to me simply for the fact that it would be my last for a very long time with all my kids home. My oldest would be leaving on a 2-year LDS mission the next summer. The second would leave before the first would return. And it was very important to me we have at least a few minutes all together to celebrate. (Weird, I know, that I should want to celebrate and find meaning with those I love on my own birthday, but it remains so.)

The window through which to accomplish this was narrowed by the fact that someone had to go to work later and we had only about an hour and a half in which to pick up takeout from the local Cafe Rio and gather together to enjoy a little white cake with buttercream frosting purchased at the local Macey’s grocery store.

I don’t recall what the fight was about–one rarely does. But teenage drama ensued with one of my children who didn’t get his or her way. Emotions, tempers and words flew freely through the atmosphere. Said child stormed out of the house, slammed the front door, and left. Just left.

I didn’t go after him or her. Knowing that soon enough the barometric pressure would stabilize and this weather event would blow over just like all that preceded it and those yet to come.

I curled up in the fetal position on my left side and felt sorry for myself for awhile while everyone ate their burritos enchilada style with black beans and mild salsa. The plain white cake covered in bright red, blue, yellow, and green balloons and confetti sat abandoned on the table.

And my mother heart broke inwardly with the shattering of unrealized expectations. Again. The capacity for a mother heart to break and break and break again and still keep beating astounds.

Eventually whoever it was who had to go to work left for work.

The angry teen returned, oblivious to the rift he or she had torn in my unrealistic expectation for the day.

Night fell.

The cake sat.

The sun rose again.

Cue the time lapse of the various members of our family rising in the morning, coming and going throughout the day.

The sun set again.

The next day my sister arrived in town for Christmas. She dropped by the house that afternoon to catch up. It was Christmas Eve.

She sat on the sofa. I sat in my blue leather recliner. We picked up where we had left off last and revealed to each other how the various threads of our lives had woven something a little deeper since the last time we’d been together.

Across the room the cake sat, alone on the dining room table, continuing to slowly decay in the dry Utah air, made drier by the constantly running heater.

Our conversation wound down. There was still much to do to get ready for the traditional clam chowder dinner and Christmas breakfast of braided breads, Chex mix, and ham and egg strata.

I glanced at the cake.

“We may as well eat that darn cake.”

[Day 8 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir]

Finish

8minI actually like the thought of a piece of art that reads “Finish” but is never finished. I’m not so sure that life is really about finishing. So many things are meant to be a process of doing or becoming. So many other things (says the former SAHM in me) are about doing over and over and over again every single day because they become undone.

Dishes, laundry, feeding people. What to make for dinner is just was just as much a challenge then as it is every day when I come home from work. Maybe made harder by so many distracting things wherein there is joy in the journey.

Relationships are never finished. Even when they end abruptly, such as when someone we love dies but we carry them in our hearts or when someone moves away and we miss them or keep our unfinished business with them in our thoughts.

Unfinished business. That’s what chases sleep away every time I wake up in the middle of the night. There seems to be no finishing a night’s sleep.

I’m often both satisfied and sad when I finish a book. Sad because I will miss characters I have come to love–The Book Thief–and also because once read it can never be read for the very first time again–Harry Potter series. Just to name a few.

Just yesterday I glanced up at the shelf full of unfinished quilt projects in my laundry room. I thought with some guilt how I still haven’t finished James’ baby quilt that just required a back, quilting, and binding and also with longing over the stack of Civil War prints in blacks and reds that were meant to be hand appliqued into a sweet little Celtic pattern and how of all the unfinished projects that may be the one I may have most been looking forward to seeing completed. I wonder how to fit in any finishing when I come home from work a little done for the day still a few hours before the day is finished.

Aside from the occasional quilt back in the day and races such as the half marathon my son just completed or the sprint tri I once completed back in the day when I found time for walking and biking for hours upon a time, I’m at a loss to think of what else we do that is ever really finished and doesn’t demand to be ongoing or redone or done over and over again?

I’m never really finished writing, which is why I prefer blogging to being published. I can always find the edit button to complete an unfinished thought, correct a punctuation error that has been bothering me, or exchange a careless word for one that better suits. But I rarely if ever reread anything I’ve written that’s already in print. Because I know I will find another of the many imperfections (I’m really fine with imperfections–perhaps because that’s why seeing life as an interesting journey and not a finish line is reassuring) and once it’s on the printed page it’s too late to amend.

My 8-minute timer went off. Perhaps today I will ponder the meaning of running out time before finishing a piece about not finishing.

[Day 7 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir]

Games

Basketball was my sport of choice in high school. Well after a fashion. At 5 feet 8, I had the height for it, at least at my high school. Much to my disappointment, I was just an average player, and my little sister was better than I was, but I did love the game. My friend’s mom was one of our coaches. Our coaches had these little maroon red (our school colors were maroon and gold) stickers you would find on your locker after a game, depending on what your strengths were during a particular game. I don’t recall what the rest of them were, because the sticker I was mot familiar with was the little red hatchet. Because, as with many taller players, or with anyone who was hungry for going after the ball, I was good a getting fouls. I didn’t mind. I usually capped my hatchets at 4–not enough to get thrown out of the game. If I got less than 3 or 4 I didn’t think I had played hard enough. To this day I still don’t think going after the ball hard is necessarily a bad thing.

It’s all about attitude.

Speaking of attitude, I remember one time pregame at a school where we shared a common locker room space with the opposing team. We were doing our own version of trash-talking the other team before the game. We trash-talked with our eyes. Sizing up our opponents. Glaring. Being teenagers, we were all particularly good at glaring. There may have been low-throated growling. (Our school mascot was the tigers.)

At the mirror we shared, I found myself next to a tall blond from the other team. I was certain we would find ourselves jumping against each other out on the floor. (I loved jumping for the ball–this was in the old days, before they changed the rules, and when we had a whole lot more jumping for the ball.)

We sized each other up slowly. I stared her down something fierce. She stared me down right back. And then all of a sudden a spark of recognition hit my brain. “Kelly?” (See–I still remember her first name!) “Dalene?” We had gone to elementary school together in another city not too far away and had been good friends. We enthusiastically hugged and quickly picked up our long-standing friendship right where it left off.

Emnity was quickly replaced with affection, just like that.

I don’t recall who won the game that night, just that Kelly and I played and parted as friends, even while playing with all our hearts for opposite teams.

How would our world feel–if when we were about to trash talk a stranger (or even a friend or acquaintance)–someone we have made a judgment about based on one tiny piece we have of their whole, something they’ve said or whatever we’ve heard or read about them on the Internet or simply based on the fact that we see them as “other” than us on some issue–we could recognize the familiar in them. Maybe some sort of common ground. Another issue upon which we might not find ourselves so polarized. A common experience–joy or sorrow or simply being part of the human family–that we possibly share.

I wonder if then we might be a kinder, gentler, people? Still playing the game, but with better sportsmanship.

[Day 6 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir]

Little things aka “there are no small things”

lightIt’s getting almost ridiculous how I crave these little prompts. I will myself not to check my email in the middle of the night because I will want to get up and respond right then. How a part of me that needs and craves a weekend after a long and demanding work week also regrets having to wait until Monday for a new prompt.

But I digress. Several decades ago I came across a phrase that resonated deep within me. “There are no small things.” I know and believe this with my entire being. This truth is particularly evident in terms of kindnesses.

A smile. A warm “Hello.” A sincere “How are you?” A genuine “Apology?” (When is the last time you remember getting or giving one of those? I can tell you date and and time and location in the same way I remember hearing on the radio that Elvis died while riding in a tow-truch through downtown SLC).

I hesitate to start for the sure knowledge 8 minutes is too short and I won’t be able to scratch the surface, but I will try.

My friend Kalli once dropped by with a loaf of homemade bread and a jar of homemade peach jam during a very painful time of our lives when no one knew what to say or what to do or what we needed.

I once walked out of Walmart to bump into a woman from my neighborhood I didn’t know well (but have since come to love, appreciate, and call close friend). I smiled at her and said hello, as I was genuinely happy to see her (I am usually genuinely happy to see most people). Later that day I got a note from her telling me that she happened to be having a particularly difficult day and how my smile had lifted her spirit. I learned from this to never hold back a smile and to more fully appreciate the likely un-randomness of chance encounters that lift my spirits.

One day, I found myself walking into church alone with a heavy heart. My Sunday school teacher and his wife passed me along the sidewalk. I don’t recall the encouraging words he left me with, but both the words and the caring behind them affected me deeply.

Once when I was a young–and very tired–college student cleaning offices and classrooms in the Harris Fine Arts Center I came across a note left for the anonymous me by a professor whose office I cleaned. “Thanks for taking out the trash every day.” This simple kindness and gratitude shaped me, and helped me become more conscious and more appreciative of those nearly invisible people who serve us. A sensibility that contributed to my sweet and unexpected friendship with the head custodian in our building at my current job with a woman who followed the spirit to bless my life by openly sharing her struggles and her experience in them to walk with me through a challenging situation with one of my kids. We have laughed together and cried together (also not little things) and encourage one another along this shared path.

In addition to every kindness, I am also moved by every simple beauty and pleasure of this earth. The warmth of the sun on my face on a winter’s day. The joy I feel when my living room is filled with the sprawling bodies of my kids and their friends on a Sunday afternoon, particularly in winter when they are sleeping under homemade quilts or the sun coming through our south-facing window. The almost-too-perfect-for-this-earth light that will hit individual leaves on a tree or patchwork fields of green and yellow early in the morning and just before sunset along my commute. Sunsets. Sunrises. Harmony. Acoustic guitar. Haunting lyrics. Delicious puns. The also almost-too-perfect-for-this-earth phrase in a book I’m reading. The funny things my kids say. The delightful giggle and joy of James that reaches clear down to his toes. Orchids, posies, and other such delights unexpectedly showing up at my door. Clouds. Rain. The relief of finally feeling cool at the end of a hot summer. Petrichor. A good night’s sleep. Hugs.

Sometimes such joys bring tears to my eyes and I say to myself, “very single pain and sorrow of this life is worth it just to have come and experienced this beautiful thing.”

[Day 5 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir]

Adventure

IMG_8015At some point last night in my ins and outs of sleep and insomnia I decided that my husband and I should throw caution to the wind and leave the country every summer. In my dream (or was it in some point of semi-consciousness?) I decided our destination should be Sweden. But as I planned the trip in my head I made up my mind that we should throw caution (particularly financial caution) to the wind and go somewhere else the next year. And the next. And the next.

It may have started in early 2006. I was a SAHM. My husband a 3rd grade teacher. Four kids. No money to spare. But I decided Shane needed to go back to Finland, where he has served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A Finn who also happened to work for a local travel company was planning a trip for a group of Finns and returned Finnish missionaries to attend the open house of the Helsinki Temple. We had no money. We had otherwise successfully avoided consumer debt. But I felt strongly we needed to go and so we did. Other than serving a mission myself and being a mom, that trip was a great adventure. The 22 people in our group were all meant to be there, together, at that time, and in that place. Of course I fell in love with Finland, from the wooded east side where we got lost and ate wild lingonberries while the men tried to sort out the directions announced to use over the GPS. To the actual arctic circle where we (sorry Rudolph) ate reindeer, bought hand-carved knives and Christmas ornaments and sent a message in a bottle for our kids. And back down the west side, where we passed through farm country we suspect my great great grandmother may have lived. And Helsinki. Oh Helsinki. The people. The food. The market. The architecture. The throngs of families and people who were drawn to see what was this beautiful temple–so strongly drawn they crashed the unlocked gates one Sunday we were there.

We went back last summer. Shane went a week before me, which means I flew over, found a hotel, stayed the first night, and wandered the city–all my luggage bumping over cobblestone–in the rain, looking more desperately for a) a restroom, and b) the harbor where I was supposed to meet Shane and his group in order to take a cruise overnight to St. Petersburg. But that is all for another day.

The gist is that somewhere between my two summers in Helsinki and a relatively new job (an adventure I never expected) for which I had a number of travel adventures (again, a story for another day), this former homebody has been bitten by the travel bug. I discovered a part of me that longs for adventure in seeing new places, meeting new people, and trying new flavors (and also every cheese board I can find). Discovering something new about myself when I’m over half a century old is perhaps the greatest adventure.

[Day 4 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir]

Billboards

This is a tough one (mostly because I’m not fond of billboards and I wish Utah would do away with billboard advertising all together, but word on the street [because yes, this is something I actually looked into once when I didn't have more important things to worry about] is that billboard companies are a powerful lobbying group).

Billboards were not a common sight where I grew up in Oregon. Aside from one–which was probably just a giant sign–on the side of a giant barn somewhere out in farm country, the billboard with which I was most familiar was had to do with music (which I will Google as soon as my eight minutes are up) Billboard’s top hits (I wanted to go with Top 40, but that was Kasey Kasem (sp?).

In any case, thanks to tough laws (at least back in the old days) prohibiting/regulating billboards from messing with the skyline and our view, the most experience I had with billboards would be every summer when our family would drive to Randolph, Utah to help at the ranch during branding season. Once you hit Utah (I have no recollection of Idaho’s billboard laws) there were billboards a plenty. And I’m not a fan.

Unless they are funny. If you are clever or know how to wield a pun or otherwise amuse, you may get a pass, but pretty much I loathe billboards.

In particular, ears are not attractive and should not be pictured on billboards (Gus Paulus maybe? Nope–Ken Garff–see, Mr. Garff–all that money for naught). Plastic surgery billboards seem to have diminished somewhat over the years but also used to annoy me plenty. And can I just tell you how most amazing it is that there are no longer a herd of white horses lining my drive all the way up and down I-15? (Cavalia’s Odysseo).

In any case, billboards are big, they are usually ugly (those clunky rusty metal ones of late-UGH!), and they are rarely clever. I’m not a fan. The end.

[Day 3 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir]

Postscript to my previous post

Let it be known that despite the world seeming (at least to me) a much less kinder, gentler place than I remember as a kid, and the burdens borne much heavier and longer lasting, it’s still a beautiful world.

Even in the midst of the deepest sorrow (someday I will write about the recent experience of losing my mother), I feel joy. Even the midst of tragedy and loss, I see goodness and hope.

I am just as easily brought to tears by the kindness of others and the beauty of this earth as I am by the surrounding pain and suffering. Forever I will be grateful for this wild ride.

I don’t remember

I don’t remember life being this hard when I was a kid. Not this hard for me–I was a kid. We whined about life being hard (the six of us kids having to take turns making breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an entire family of 8 and also doing the dishes and also scrubbing the toilet and dusting the top of the china hutch, and also weeding the half-acre garden where it seemed we grew carrots that were a foot long), but I wasn’t aware that the lives of the people surrounding me then were as hard as the lives of the people I know now, including, sometimes, my own. I’m not entirely sure if it was just by the grace of childhood oblivion–where it was seldom that people we knew were sick with mental or physical illness, passed away, or struggled with heartbreaking and seemingly insurmountable problems you just know won’t be resolved until the next life–or if the world is a harder, more brutal place. In any case, I am often painfully aware of the pain and suffering of others–those I know and those I don’t and of individuals and entire populations of people I read about in the news whose problems are so big I can’t even wrap my head around them. But my heart hurts and often feels so heavy.

I don’t remember names very well. This weakness is brought into sharp relief as my husband has a remarkable memory and not only has the name of every student in his class memorized well before the first day of school, but also remembers everyone from his college days (and beyond) and the birthdays of so very many of the students he has taught over the past 25 years. This is problematic when I bump into someone who clearly remembers me and I struggle to put a name to his or her face or to put them into the context of how I know them. One of the most recent and lingering cases is last spring at my college’s graduation. I met an older gentleman who seemed familiar and who clearly remembered me (trust me, it’s bad enough to struggle with memory, but even worse when someone significantly older than you has a better memory than yours). I smiled and said hello and my notoriously bad poker face must have clued him in to the fact I was at a loss of where to place him. “Remember, you did that filming with me?” I nodded and asked him how he’d been. And for the life of me I still have no idea what project I worked with him on or what… I am truly sorry for that.

Speaking of faulty memory, I am also entirely capable of remembering things that didn’t happen or remembering things differently than they happened. Those memories are sometimes more clear than things that actually happened. I just don’t often know the difference. But that is entirely another story…

[Day 2 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir]

I remember when…

[In response to a heads up from Courtney about Ann Dee Ellis’ memoir writing group, and to somehow–I hope–heal the wound of losing a couple of years’ worth of stories when my blog died, I’m jumping in on Day 1.]

emmetI remember when I could walk out my front door and down our long gravel driveway and inhale the deep green heady bite of fresh Oregon peppermint from the vast field across the street.

When I rode my bike to or from work either at the local Abby’s Pizza Inn in town–right about 6 miles–or seemed like a mile shorter to the left towards the Hentz farm I would pass acres and acres of corn, wheat, beans, and, of course, more mint.

When the couple of times I went for a run (I hated running then and I still do) and got my second wind enough to feel up to going around the block that it was a good 4 miles past more acres and acres of the Willamette Valley’s finest crops just to get around the block.

As a youth I spent my summers–40 hours a week–working callouses deep into my hands from the trusty hoe I’d sharpened myself that morning–always mesmerized by the sparks flying from the fresh cut blade–as I hoed acres and acres of some of the best produce in the country.

Every once in awhile the girls (hoers) would be needed to help the (pipe) boys move sprinkler pipe–a job that’s long been replaced with wheeled irrigation. Different muscles. Same sweat under the hot sun.

Last month I went to spend some time with my brother on his newly acquired 10 acres in Emmet Idaho. Every morning and also each night I found myself drawn outside to breathe deeply of the fresh grassy air and connect with the steady rhythm of the stsk stsk stsk of the irrigation sprinklers to either side of me and also a ways back past his pasture.

The last several times I’ve found myself driving northwest through Idaho or down south to Iron County, I’ve felt a pining the quiet peace I knew in the country as a child. No regrets – we came where we were led and planted new roots in a quieter part of this desert city. But still a longing for the roots that once bound me to that part of the earth and an appreciation for something that, once surrounded by, I most certainly took for granted.