Timing Is Everything

We had a trip planned for next month, September (to Germany to visit good friends), but in late spring we cancelled it,* due to everything that we had on our plates. I was already exhausted (the holidays, work, illness, family things), and we hadn’t even made an itinerary yet.

The village of Maulbronn. Picturesque! (From Wikipedia. Attribution: Gregorini Demetrio.)

Gerry had been suggesting we postpone, actually, for weeks, and I’d resisted, because our friends had set aside the time. But finally I realized he was right. When we made the decision, it was like a weight lifted.

Within a week of this decision, we heard from Gerry’s brother that he and his wife needed to reschedule (due to unforseen family events) their trip to visit us from October … to September, the very time we’d have been gone. It freed me up to spend three weeks with my son and his wife during the birth of their daughter in May/June.

And you know, those weren’t the only serendipitous things. If we still had a flight on September 10th, we’d be in trouble right now, because Gerry no longer has a passport he could enter this country with (he could leave … but not reenter). He’s a citizen now, but we haven’t even started the process to obtain his American passport (it’s only been a week, after all, and I’ve been sick working).

Timing, as they say, is everything.

• • •

*Posponed, really.

Laddie, the Extraordinarily Good-Natured Cat

We let Laddie go today. He held on hard to life in spite of his increasing age (he was 18) and growing infirmity (arthritis in his rear legs). He’d brought two squirrels, two birds, and a vole inside as love offerings in the last two months. He patrolled the neighborhood every morning; he kept to his routine of chewing lemongrass after breakfast, which required getting up on the deck rail. He was still going over the six-foot fence a couple times a day until yesterday. This morning he declined to get out of bed, and I understood. He died in my arms at 8:50 am. To say we are heartbroken doesn’t begin to describe it.

• • •

That this is a much shorter obituary than Bean’s means nothing other than I am so sad I can’t bear this pain. Laddie was a spectacular cat, beloved by anyone who knew him. And many did, because he never met a stranger.

He was always eager to please.

Bean the Brave

10 January 2018 (Obituary)
Today we had to let Beanie go. Our hearts are broken, but we couldn’t bear to let her suffer any more than she had. She is stardust, she is golden, she is of the Tribe of Tiger, she is Bean the Ferocious, Bean the Fierce. Sing it.

On the prowl in the iris bed.

27 January 2018
Bean has visited me two nights in a row. The first night I saw her above me, looking to see if I was awake, her beautiful eyes big and round. Last night I felt her beside me in her usual place. I put my hand down to touch her, and when I did, she changed her position, just a little. Her fur was so soft. I know it’s just in my dreams. But they were so vivid.

• • •

27 July 2018
My little cat got sick last summer, right about this time. That is, she seemed fine, but she began to lose weight. We took her to the vet, did a lot of tests, gave her pills and vitamins and special food. She was only twelve years old, but she’d always had little ailments—a cough; a tendency to puke—and now she was wasting away.

In November I had written, “She hates all these pills. She is no longer well groomed; she doesn’t groom. She eats, but not enough. She loves a food flavor one day and won’t touch it the next. I spend a lot of time trying to coax her to eat, trying to find the thing that will, frankly, keep her alive. Her appointment for an ultrasound is still three weeks away (December 6). And really, how likely is it that her wasting away is something simple that can be fixed and she lives another five years? It’s torture. I don’t want her to go but I don’t know how much more either of us can take.”

I was trying to prepare myself.

She came to me in 2006, rescued by my son. She’d been a neglected, lonely indoor cat from kittenhood. She was terrified of the outside, but I had two older cats who spent their days lying on the deck in the sun, and she’d watch them from the glass door. So I’d carry her out there, and eventually she loved it. Her name was Precious then, a perfectly ridiculous name for a feline as cranky as she generally was, and I renamed her Bean. She grew right into it.

And she became My Cat. Wherever I was in the house, she was there. When I was working (I’m an editor) she was most often asleep on the desk.

Daily. This.

Or sitting in the office window for a change of view.

She preferred open, and would paw at a closed window until I opened it.

Or keeping me company in the kitchen.

She could watch me from this spot.

Wherever I settled for a moment, she would show up and settle in too.

My little helper.

If I went out into the backyard, Bean was there. I never really thought about it at the time, but she was my shadow. My constant companion.

No matter how late I worked, she stayed with me, but when I went to bed, she slept right beside me, nestled up against my hip. I could put my hand down beside me at any point during the night, and feel her. We had a routine: I brushed my teeth, and she had a drink from the china bowl in the bathroom. I’d get into bed and she’d visit the cat box. When I was settled, she’d walk up the steps I’d put at the foot of the bed for her, and get into her spot. But first, a good grooming.

Bean on her favorite blanket.

She didn’t like to be held. She would tolerate your picking her up to, say, feed her. And sometimes she’d deign to sit in your lap. But no holding. No cuddling. She was tiny, but she’d rear back and swat you—wap-wap-wap-wap-wap—if you insisted on holding her. She packed quite a wallop.

• • •

I waited a long time to try to write this, but I needed to say it while I still remember everything. But doing it is breaking my heart all over again. I miss my little girl cat.

Watching birds from the deck.

She loved Gerry.

Actually, she liked him best. 🙂

She loved our bedroom; it was her sanctuary. She liked lying on my shoes.

Bean on her throne.

She had beautiful markings (a monkey on her back!) … and a whimsically curled tail.

See the monkey?

She liked lying on her back with her legs in the air. And as prissy as she was, she loved a good roll in the dirt.

Rite of Spring.

She chased squirrels.

Here she has the squirrel (ahem) treed.

She often followed the sun up the staircase, one step at a time.

I have almost as many photos of Bean on the stairs as I do of her on my desk.

• • •

Oh, Beanie, if I’d known it was the last time you’d sit in the windowsill, walk across my desk, sleep next to me … I would have stopped what I was doing.

• • •

12 January 2018
We got out of the house yesterday, had dinner with close friends Jan and Lisa. We met Jan at her office before going to the restaurant and she asked, “Do you have a cold?” I’m fine, I said.

She looked hard at me for a second. I’ve known Jan for more than twenty years. “You don’t look fine. Are you OK?” she asked again, and I hesitated. No, I said, I’m not OK, and she understood right away. It is good to have friends who really know you and get it and give good hugs. We had a nice slow dinner, then, and were home in bed by nine o’clock. I rested my head on Bean’s favorite blanket. She checked on me early this morning. I know I was dreaming but I felt her presence, coming up to look at my face, as she always did around 3am, 4am.

10 January 2018
“What happened?” our wonderful vet asked, shocked, as I was sobbing in the exam room. We’d just been texting not twenty-four hours earlier about Bean’s status, and I was hopeful. (I was always hopeful. I was always fooling myself; I knew where this was going.) I’ll never tell our dear vet how that question broke me even further. Bean was supposed to have more time; the vet was surprised. But for days—the things I forgot to report—Bean had cried when I picked her up. And since she could no longer get up onto the furniture, she had to be picked up. I think she was in more pain than she was letting on. And I think the progression of the cancer was exhausting her. The day before her morning routine—get up with me, wait by the door until I opened it, walk from the bedroom to the dining room in the dark, jump up onto the dining room table and wait for me to bring food—had been the same, although she’d already begun that funny walk where she couldn’t always get up on her hind toes. As that day progressed she was walking more and more flat-footed. I told myself that she was always worse in the evening, at the end of the day. I told myself a lot of things to keep from thinking about the end. To keep from despairing.

On the day of her death, though, she did not get up with me. She was sleeping by my pillow, and she didn’t move when I got up, though she watched me. Later I checked on her, and she’d moved from the pillow end of the bed to the foot of it. Another check and she’d moved onto the cedar chest. Another check and she was on the floor by the door, so when I opened it, she began wobbling down the hall. When I put her on the table to eat, she ate like we’d been starving her, so it wasn’t that she had no appetite; she just didn’t have the energy or couldn’t face the pain of walking. (Although I’d come immediately back to the bedroom and given her the pain med, even before feeding Laddie and Spot.)

But there was one other thing that told me we were at the end, and this happened during the night. Her tail. She always had it in strict control. She could pull it out of my hand if she wanted to (it was soft; I liked to touch it). She always knew where it was. When she was on the bed, it was wrapped around her. But in the last day or two, it wasn’t wrapped, it was stretched out, as if she didn’t have the energy to wrap it. I think this and the inability to walk correctly were connected. Some tumor was pressing on a nerve, perhaps. The most telling thing, the thing that made me know it was time, was that during that last night, I found her tail tangled into my arm a couple times. (I always woke up a couple times every night and felt where she was and then dropped back to sleep, knowing “all’s right.” She’d move from next to my hip to next to my pillow, and back. And she’d change the way she was facing, toward me or away from me.) But this night she stayed by my pillow—again, I think it was too hard for her to move—and she’d shift a little, but her tail had to fend for itself. It was completely limp, lying across my upper arm, or caught in the crook of my elbow. Soft, that beautiful tail, but utterly limp. That’s when I knew. That’s when I knew.

And I’m thinking of this answer now, while I’m clearer of mind, not while I am distraught and broken. When our vet asked, “What happened?” I couldn’t even rub two thoughts together as I stood there covered in cat pee, sobbing because I knew I had to let Bean go and it was the very. Last. Thing. I wanted to do. I did not want to say good-bye to my cat that day. I thought we had a little more time.

I know, also, that our vet’s shock came from a place of love for Bean. I’d watched her touch Bean and love Bean and let Bean be pissed off in a cat tower and—instead of making her move to the exam table—simply went to the cat tower to check her. Bean had a lot of personality, she was extraordinary, and people who knew cats knew that.

Giving me the stink-eye for bringing her here.

We tried so hard to keep her here with us.

17 January 2018
The vet called today, a week later, to let me know her ashes are ready. Later G said, “Do you want me to go in and get the ashes?” and I said I can do it. That I’m OK. And then I began to cry and said, “Well, I was OK until right now.” I told him I still have trouble going into the bedroom at night, to go to bed, because she would always be there, or be going with me.

I told him I’d stumbled on some photos in my phone that I hadn’t yet downloaded, taken on her last day, and I found them upsetting. She looked so sad, so worn out … And he said, “Just imagine her now, a week later,” and I began to sob. I can’t look at those pictures right now. And I can’t imagine another week of her suffering. (Though as sick as she was, her grooming, her tenacity, and her litter box etiquette were impeccable. She maintained her dignity and her personality to the end.)

But I know I made the right decision to let her go when I did. I know she isn’t suffering now, and knowing that is a lifted weight, as much as it hurts.

And even that lifted weight made me feel so awful.

• • •

A friend of mine makes a habit of rescuing greyhounds, even though, as you might imagine, they don’t always live long past the point of rescue. So she has experience with making these decisions. Waiting. Or letting them go on. And she talks with others about it. She talked with me about it. “Lots of people have regrets about waiting too long,” she told me. “No one ever thinks they let them go too soon. Not after they’ve had time to think about it.” This comforts me, Darcie. Thank you.

• • •

So we let her go. I am still sad. And the simplest facts are: I’m self-employed. I work from home. Bean followed me everywhere. So everywhere I look … she’s not there, and I’m sad about it. I could just weep for longing.

I Have Had Enough of Winter …

From the kitchen window.

It’s 34° outside at 1pm, 39° when we left the house for the farmers market at 7:30 this morning. On our way home from the market we saw a homeless man, staggering down the Church Street overpass in the wind. In shirtsleeves.

While we had a late breakfast, this little squirrel sat outside near the fountain and feeding table with its front paws folded up close to its chest, no doubt wondering what had happened to spring and did we skip summer, for Pete’s sake?

Now Gerry’s outside covering up the rose bushes, and I’ve dragged the potted herbs up into a little nook by the back door. It may be April seventh where you are, the joke goes, but here it’s January ninety-seventh. Brrr.

We’re warm inside, but this will be a long night for many of God’s creatures. #enough #grateful

Snow Day

Every day

I see or hear


that more or less


kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle


in the haystack

of light.

It was what I was born for—

to look, to listen,


to lose myself

inside this soft world—

to instruct myself

over and over


in joy …

—Mary Oliver, excerpt from “Mindful,” from Why I Wake Early (2004)

Season[ing]’s Greetings!

I have never, ever been able to resist the spice aisle at the grocery store. I began cooking standing beside my mother when I was very young; from her I learned the basics—to wit, you generally can’t go wrong with salt, pepper, and garlic.

I’ve been cooking for a lot of years now, and while I’m still pretty fond of salt, pepper, and garlic, I’ve always been drawn to spice blends. Like, say, “Greek seasoning,” which has, one discovers, as many iterations as there are Greeks, it seems. Or steak seasoning. Italian seasoning.

One thing I have learned, though, is you just can’t beat fresh. Sure, I’ve been pinching fresh herbs for salads and seasonings off my plants in the backyard for years. But I’ve quit listening to the siren call of the spice aisle at my favorite grocery. You can buy fresher seasonings online.

My awakening came as a result of a wedding gift. A friend gave us a gift pack of six salts and seasoning blends from the Savory Spice Shop, and when I ran out of Black Dust Coffee Spice Rub (fabulous on steak) I ordered more. And … oh my goodness. I fell down the rabbit hole of spice blends. Over successive months, I tried more and more combinations. The main location for the Savory Spices Shop is in Denver (they also have franchse stores all over the country), but their service is fast and efficient, and they always send a little sample of something different when they pack your order. And I love being able to buy in bulk (cheaper) if I really like something.

Salt from the Salt Sisters, spice blends from Savory Spice Company, Lupicia tea … these are a few of my favorite things. 🙂

Here are some of the things I buy from SSS:

  • Vanilla (beans and extract): I haven’t bought “flavoring” (as opposed to extract) in decades but with the advent of essential oils, people are starting to realize that the closer you get to the actual thing, the better off you are. And yes, I’ve splurged on different vanillas. (Tip: When I use a vanilla bean for baking, I save the pod, clip it up into 1-inch pieces, and drop them into my sugar bowl. It seasons the sugar! We don’t put sugar in our tea or coffee but guests often do, and vanilla sugar is a treat.
  • Pepper: Mostly the Four Corners blend in bulk, because my Irish husband has a thing for pepper sauce on steak. I tried the Szechwan peppercorns once and they weren’t for me (I’m not a pepper user, much, and it wasn’t right for pepper sauce) but in Asian recipes it would be yummy.
  • Salt: Fumee de sel was in my original gift, and is quite nice (not as smoky as my other smoked salts, and a little coarser). I enjoy the little differences between sea salt, kosher salt, flaked, fine, coarse, and on and on. I love the crunch, for example, of Maldon sea salt flakes, and was exposed years ago to fleur de sel, which I also keep on hand. (Neither of which I buy from SSS, actually.)
  • Spice blends: The temptation here, of course, is to go crazy, but I would advise you to ease into stocking your spice cabinet. This Santa Maria blend is a wonderful mix that we love on salads and steamed veggies. Pike’s Peak Butcher’s Rub is my all-purpose go-to when I’m not sure where to start. Remember that some blends are salt free (California Citrus Dry Rub has a nice bite to it), so check the ingredient list. When I mentioned SSS on Facebook, a friend recommended I try Park Hill, which I’ve used on pork, and that led me to Barnegat Bay, which I’ve used on pork and chicken. Check the ingredients—you might be surprised. I get a lot of ideas of things to try from the “People also bought …” at the bottom of the page. I always find something interesting that piques my curiosity. And I haven’t even begun to sample the ethnic blends yet.
  • Single spices: This spring I was going to make a simple kale salad that called for a little cayenne—and I didn’t have any. So I decided to start trying single spices, since I loved the freshness of the blends. When my little baggie of finely ground cayenne arrived, I nearly swooned. You can really smell the difference.

So I’m sold. The SSS website does a great job of helping you get just the right thing, if you’re not sure.

I hasten to add that Savory Spice Shop is not the only online purveyor of fresh spices. A friend of mine recently bought some assorted blends and spices from Penzey’s, which he highly recommends. And I also patronize the Salt Sisters, which I discovered when a friend gifted us with a steakhouse seasoning blend and another called Tuscan Farmhouse—both of which we use and enjoy regularly.

Salt Sisters has a smaller inventory than SSS, but their customer service is also excellent. Here are some other things I buy from them:

Those of you who know me know I really prefer “real” tea to herbal, so that should tell you something about the tea from Salt Sisters.

Since we’re talking about tea, I’ll just throw in two other tea shops at which I enjoy shopping:

  • Gong Fu in Des Moines, Iowa; highly recommended by one of my authors.
  • Lupicia in Hayward (the San Francisco Bay area). A friend of my son’s went to college in the area, and she exposed me to Lupicia. The teas are packaged in beautiful tins that make lovely gifts.

Finally, no blog post about the things we use to make eating pleasurable in this house would be complete without a discussion of our local olive oil shop. Here we buy infused and pressed olive oils (they’ll sample anything) and balsamic vinegars. We trade recipe ideas (dark chocolate balsamic on vanilla ice cream? oh yeah) with the owners, succumb to their sales, and just can’t imagine a salad without oil and vinegar.

Bon appétit!