Spot’s Big Adventure (or, The Very Expensive Cat)

Back in the fall of 2016 we took Spot to the fancy-schmancy ophthalmologist vet in Nashville. He had some discoloration in his right eye, the iris. When I’d researched, I learned that this was either melanosis (nothing to worry about) or melanoma (plenty to worry about).

Our local vet was concerned because it was only in the one eye. I stood right there and said, “So let’s take the eye out. Like, right now.” Her reply was that removing the eye was no guarantee; it’s been known to metastasize even after the eye is removed (technically, it spreads before the eye is removed but doesn’t show up until after). So she sent us to Veterinary Ophthalmology Services in Nashville, where we met with a specialist. From her we learned that they assess several things:

• color • shape • flat/raised • eyeball pressure •

and using those criteria they decide “probably benign” or “probably cancerous.” (Since they can’t easily biopsy something inside a cat’s eye.)

With melanoma, the color is typically black/dark; Spot’s color was brick red. With melanoma, the shape of the iris or the pupil becomes distorted; Spot had none of those symptoms. With melanoma, the spots are raised; Spot’s were flat. With melanoma, eyeball pressure becomes wildly uneven; Spot’s eyes were the same and in the normal range. So the vet was inclined to believe that for the time being, Spot was OK.

However, as I’ve noted, there is some evidence that melanosis is sometimes a precursor to melanoma (but most times it is not). “Some people can’t live with uncertainty,” the vet said, and they have they eye removed, even knowing that it’s not a guarantee. Typically, if it does metastasize, it ends up in the lungs or liver, so she suggested we have our vet X-ray his lungs for a baseline.

As we pulled out of the parking lot in Nashville, we called our vet, and they were able to get us in right then for the X-ray. And his lungs were clear. So for the time being Spot was in good shape. The vet asked us to try to determine when we’d first seen the spots—and to send photos. I spent half a day combing through our photographs and was able to trace it back a couple years. (I learned later they used my photos in a professional presentation, and was thrilled that perhaps it will help someone else’s cat or dog.)

Fast forward a couple years of quarterly checkups and our ophthalmalogist vet gave us the news: probably time to take the eye out. So … our big boy would have one less eye. But, we hope, no cancer ever.

It is not easy to take a selfie with Spotty. He struggles some.

That said, I was not emotionally prepared to sign a DNR for my cat at 7:15 in the morning, having arisen at 5:15, left the house at 6:00, and driven to southeast Nashville in freaking I-24 rush hour traffic without even a cup of tea to sustain me. Fortunately, Spot did just fine. We went off, had breakfast, shopped a little, and picked him up a few hours later. But OMG that Cone of Shame. He hated it, and he had to stay inside for two weeks.

See how dilated that pupil is? And that snaggle tooth mouth? Spot is a cat who maintains his dignity at all times, so you can imagine his frustration HERE.

I’d told the vet I was experienced at giving pills to felines. I said I knew all about putting the syringed pain meds in the cheek. I said, sure, I’ve shot lots of antibiotics down the throat from a syringe. (We’d just been through sweet Bean’s final illness.) Oh yeah, I’m good, I’d said.

… [Lowers eyes modestly] …

And then there was Spot. Who spit out the same pill three times. Who could rage-leap eight inches straight up while being tightly scruffed by me. Who clamped his mouth shut and when you pried it open literally exhaled the antibiotic. Right. Back. Out. We tried different positions (“you hold this, I’ll hold that”) and eventually discovered that we had to swaddle him in a large towel and then Gerry had to lie on top of him to hold him still-ish so I could administer the drugs. It was, shall we say, a team-building exercise. Several times a day.

And Spot was miserable. Himself, yes, but a sadder version of it. It was breaking our hearts.

One night during this time we had a little gathering here, so we put the felines into the master suite to keep them out from underfoot. (We always do this. This spot in the house has always been their voluntary retreat, and they’re quite content there. All amenities are included.) But we check on them, of course. And when I did, I found the Cone of Shame on the floor right in front of the door. And Spotty was on the bed.

In his mind, I suspect he’s giving me the finger.

There was a tiny trickle of blood from the upper end of his stitches, so we know he scratched, but he didn’t appear to have done much damage, and we got the cone right back on him. The next day he paced the house endlessly, roaring like a mini-lion and just generally expressing his extreme displeasure. At that point we were just counting the days until his next appointment.

On the day, we had the Ceremonial Removal of the Cone of Shame. What a relief for all parties concerned! Coming home, we let him out of the carrier, because he seemed restless. And this is when we found out that Spot enjoys riding in the car. He doesn’t pace or try to climb into awkward places. He’ll get up on the console/armrest and lie still. If we’ve been out without him, when we return he is waiting—and the minute the door opens, he jumps into the car and will happily stay closed in the car while we unload groceries. Sometimes we forget him for a while. 🙂

Selfie on the ride home.

Best news: the ophthalmologist called a few weeks later. They’d gotten the pathology back on the removed eye: it had, indeed, changed to melanoma, as the vet had thought when he observed it in February. (He’d seen Spot three months prior to that.) Nonetheless, all indications were that it had not metastasized. The vet was delighted, and we, of course, share in that emotion more than a year later.

Followup: The vet inserted a silicon eyeball when Spot’s diseased eye was removed. For esthetics! To make him look better! But as time went on, we noticed that it would swell, and he would seem to not feel well, and then it would leak fluid and he’d be fine for a while. The vet could never figure out what was causing it, but in the end we decided to have the fake eye removed. Now he looks a lot more like the tough ol’ buzzard we know him to be.

But there’s more. After this ordeal, Spot changed. He had never liked being picked up, particularly, and really didn’t like being held on his back (as the longtime cat owner—me—was wont to do). He would tighten his stomach muscles and stiffen his spine straight. Now, though? Pick him up, flip him over, and he curls right up and purrs.

Final update: Spot is our only cat now. When he joined our household, we were down to just Bean and Laddie, but both are gone now, Laddie (who tolerated Spot but did not want him here) just a few weeks ago. In the months since, Spot has evolved into a different cat, and it’s been lovely to watch. He follows us around inside the house; when he’s outside, he doesn’t wander as far from the house as he once did. In the evenings he sleeps on a pillow behind my monitor or on Gerry’s lap in the man cave. He knows precisely when bedtime is, and if I am trying to finish something up, he sits in front of the monitor to get my attention. When we’re in bed, he sleeps with us—something he never, ever did before. (In fact, he slept closed in my office, to prevent “accidental” run-ins with Laddie.) For some weeks he slept at the bottom of the bed between us, or on the cedar chest at the foot of the bed; then one evening he discovered the pleasures of having his very own pillow above my head. As I say, all the vestiges of that feral cat I worked so hard to tame in 2010 are gone. And it makes us happy.

Not an Ordinary Morning

We’re out walking the dog this morning, early. OK, Gerry’s walking the dog; I’m not awake yet so I’m stumbling along trying to stay upright. Cars pass, you can hear them coming from behind. But one comes up and stops, window open, and driver says, “Hey Jamie, Gerry!” and I jump and screech. (I have a strong startle reflex. Long story, another time.) Our friendly neighbor drives on. I never got a good look at her. Uh, good morning, friendly neighbor!

We walk on. This friendly cat waits and greets us on many of our walks.

But that’s not all. It was quite a morning! Unidentified neighbor trying to be friendly scares the life out of me, Gerry and Suzy make a new friend, and later a woman is driving around looking for her dog. She stops and asks Gerry if he’s seen a black labradoodle. Yes, he has—on our neighborhood Facebook page. He pulls it up on his phone, shows her—Yes! That’s the dog!—and she jots down the phone number. All this before 7:30 a.m.

Never did find out who the friendly neighbor was.

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.

In December, Everything Came to a Head

We’ve had a lot going on here. My workload’s been heavy (that’s good, actually) but with deadlines that moved up and down my production schedule (publishers and authors sometimes shuffle things around), which caused bottlenecks and logjams that raised my stress level. (In fact, my young whippersnapper doctor put me on a low-dose blood pressure medicine late in the year. But that’s another story entirely.)

In September we learned our beloved cat, Bean (that’s her photo at the top of this blog), was sick—probably lymphoma, which is incurable, but we continued to try various meds and nutrition changes, as well as an ultrasound and needle biopsy on the sixth of December. She was weakening, and my heart was breaking.

In October our annual termite inspection yield the information that our master bathroom floor might fall through, so while we wrangled with the insurance company, we decamped to the upstairs bathroom for our daily ablutions. It took weeks to get the paperwork settled, and work finally began on December fifth. There was dust everywhere. Thank goodness we hadn’t had time to put out Christmas decorations, or they’d have been dusty too.

In November, finally, some good news: my son and his fiancée married. Actually, that was a really special day amidst a month of growing strain. I was working night and day to dismantle my logjam. Bean needed meds and you try giving a cat a pill. It was just … a crazy time. Not good, not bad, but a lot.

Happy couple a few days later: Thanksgiving at our place.

And then, on December eighth, we got a call from Dublin in the very early morning that we’d been worried would come. Gerry’s eighty-seven-year-old mother had been in and out of the hospital all year. Her body wasn’t well but her mind was still just as sharp as a tack. Since Gerry had married me and returned with me to the United States in late 2015, his younger brother, Richie, and Richie’s wife, Isolde, had taken on the responsibility of keeping an eye on Bridie. It hadn’t been an easy year for them either.

The call was from Richie: Bridie had gone to the hospital that morning. The question had already been asked (“She has a son in America—should we call him home?”) but the answer we received at 5am was “Not yet. Let’s wait and see.” So I went off to my doctor for my annual physical at 8am and, of course, my blood pressure was through the roof—I left with a prescription for the low-dose bp meds, madder than a wet hen about it too. Which did nothing to lower my bp.

• • •

(Here’s a tip about that. In those crazy early morning hours, I’d had a cup of tea and a piece of toast, forgetting that they’d take blood at my physical. By the time I got back to the clinic for the bloodwork, it was after Christmas and my blood sugar was up too. A nurse friend of mine rolled her eyes at me, reminded me that stress also causes blood sugar to rise, and said, “Jamie, don’t ever schedule a physical during the holidays!” And I won’t.)

• • •

            By the time I got home, though, “Wait and see” had become “Come home now.” Gerry had already made arrangements with our phone carrier for an international plan, and we came up to the office and sat down at our dueling computers and started looking for a flight for him. I would not be going with him. (Cats, meds, dog, deadlines, and so on.)

Back in the day—you know, when America was great and all that—the airlines offered a sympathy discount for hardship cases like final illnesses and funerals, but no more. We were shocked at the cost of a round trip flight from Nashville to Dublin: the cheapest was British Airways at $3135. It was enough to make us weak in the knees. So we called them. It never hurts to ask, right?

Welp … nope. No family emergency discount. However, the clerk took pity on us and gave us a tip, which I’m passing to you in case you don’t already know it.

• • •

When you are buying tix online, you’ll be asked to choose if you just want the flight, or if you want flight+car or flight+hotel or flight+car+hotel. Let’s say you choose flight+car. You print out a little voucher for a good rate at the car rental place. You don’t pay for it then, you just print the voucher. Magically (!) your flight cost is reduced by half. No joke: the cost went to $1572. The clerk said, “When you reach your destination, just drop by the Hertz window and tell them your plans have changed.”

• • •

            And so he did. Thanks, BA.

I didn’t work much that day. I just helped Gerry gather the things he needed to pack for a two-week stay. (I am proud of the fact that I had stashed 50 euro in bills leftover from the last trip—and several one- and two-euro coins—so Gerry didn’t have to fly off without cash other than dollars.) We were both rattled. And that afternoon I drove my husband to Nashville and put him on a plane to Dublin in the hopes he could see his mother before she parted from this world.

I came home and started sending emails to Gerry’s former work colleagues and other friends of ours, to let them know Gerry would be in Dublin and why. I let our family know. I let our Facebook friends know. I scribbled lists of things I needed to do. I went up and down the stairs letting the dog outside—she stands in the hall and does this low growl until she has your attention—gaining a new appreciation for just how much time Gerry spends letting Suzy out to pee. 🙂

Bridie died Friday just before midnight Dublin time (that would be 6pm our time). Gerry was waiting to board his flight in Chicago, having spoken with her on the phone a little earlier. One of the nieces sent me an electronic message.

Gerry arrived in Dublin in late afternoon on Saturday, precisely twenty-four hours after he’d departed Nashville, and Richie and Isolde took him home and fed him breakfast for supper and put him to bed. The funeral was scheduled for Wednesday. He spent the rest of his time in Dublin emptying the house, speaking with the solicitor, speaking with the realtor, speaking with the bank, and so on. Richie was right there by his side. It was exhausting.

Here at home, the rest of us tottered on. The diuetic I’d been prescribed for the blood pressure made me feel like I’d been run over by a truck. I could barely climb the stairs I felt so fatigued. Also low-grade nausea. But. Just. So. Exhausted. Aaaaagh. (Fortunately it only lasted for a few days.)

Suzy wasn’t getting walked, and she missed her guy. The two of us were walking wounded. On Facebook I posted Opportunity of a lifetime! Take a stroll around the block with the world’s sweetest dog! but got no takers. December is a really busy month for everyone.

The construction in the bathroom continued, which meant our backyard gate was often open. Gerry’s very cautious/aware about these things, but one morning I let her out to do her business, failing, while I was on the phone informing the dentist that Gerry would not make his appointment on Wednesday, to notice that the gate was open… and when I called for her, she was gone. I called and called: Suzy! Suzy!


So instead, I called for Spot the cat, using his mealtime call: SPIT-Spot! SPIT-Spot! He responds very well to it. So does Suzy. So what to my wondering eyes should appear but a seventy-pound yellow Lab who never misses a meal. She was on the driveway between the front yard and the back yard. Came on the run.

I always checked the gate situation after that. We’d had enough trouble.

Yes, Suzy finally took me for a walk today (dragged me around the block). That’s a plastic cup I scooped out of the gutter when I realized I’d forgotten a poop bag. Fortunately I didn’t need to use it.

Those two weeks seemed like two months. I had to let go of a lot of my personal expectations—put up a Christmas tree, decorate, send Christmas cards—and reached a peace with myself. I told myself I’d get to some of it when I could, but for the moment, I just tended to my work and my pets and sat in the hot tub, and knew that all of us would be happy to see Gerry on the other end. I wrapped one present a day and stacked them on the piano.

When you don’t have a tree, the Christmas Piano will do.

I started checking flight status early and learned that Gerry’s plane out of London Heathrow was delayed. His Chicago flight was due in Nashville at 10pm … but who knew? I’ve been on more than one flight that was held for someone making a tight connection, so I was hoping for that. I checked the flight roster—there was one more flight out of Chicago that night. So I went and brewed a pot of tea.

Ultimately, the fully boarded flight out of London was delayed by an hour and 45 minutes. Why? Because somehow someone had been allowed to board the plane to Chicago whose “paperwork was inadequate to enter the US.” That person was removed from the plane, of course, but the main delay was removing that person’s luggage from the plane. How does that even happen? I still don’t have an answer.

• • •

            But here’s a third tip: If you are flying from Ireland to the US and you have a choice, use a flight that goes directly to the US (Chicago, Boston, NY, DC, Newark, Charlotte, Atlanta … probably others). This allows you to pass customs in Dublin before you ever board a plane. It’s a hassle, you have to be there even earlier than normal, but it’s much less painful than landing in the international terminal, going to baggage claim to collect your luggage, passing through customs, then changing terminals, re-checking your luggage, passing through security, and boarding the next plane.

• • •

            Nonetheless, we took the tickets we could get two weeks ago, and this is what Gerry had to do. There was one last flight to BNA from ORD that night and British Airways took care of booking him on it while he was still in the air. So he collected two pieces of luggage, took them through customs, found his gate, checked the luggage again. As he was boarding for BNA, he got a text from the airlines: “Ooops, sorry, one of your bags didn’t get on the plane. It will follow on the first flight in the morning.” (We’re still puzzled by this. He was there in plenty of time for this flight. He checked them both simultaneously. But one didn’t make it? Why?)

The flight landed at its advertised arrival time of 11:20pm. I was sitting in the huge new park-and-wait and had been since 10pm. Waiting. Tired. Gerry called and said “Don’t come to the terminal until I have my luggage.” So I waited and waited and waited … until 12:30am. Why? Because Gerry had to prove who he was (him with the oops email from the airlines!) and document every leg of his trip, before anyone at the airlines would even agree to say they knew where his missing luggage was! And more paperwork! And me sitting in the park-and-wait having these fantasies about hugging my husband close when I finally laid eyes on him.

“I’M COMING TO GET YOU NOW,” I texted in all caps. “THIS IS RIDICULOUS.”

You would think that the Nashville airport would be reasonably quiet and calm at 1am. But if it’s two days before Christmas, you would be wrong.

Side note on the new arrivals lanes at BNA: They suck. In years past we had a simpler system, a thing of beauty, really, but sometime in the last couple years, airport expansion construction eliminated the ten-minute pull-in parking for loading arrivals and left us with three lanes plus a fourth separated by sidewalk, and it’s insanity because people don’t know how to use it. Drivers are stupid, stopping in the middle two lanes to load their people, thus holding up the entire process, rather than pulling to the two available curbs (lanes 1 and 4) to load, leaving lanes 2 and 3 for through-traffic.

By the time I decided to drive to the terminal, these lanes were backed up well past the curved arrivals entrance (if you know BNA, you know what I mean). And it was raining. When I pulled to the curb, Gerry was banging on the trunk, waiting for me to pop it. He had the suitcase in the trunk before I was out of the car. “This is madness!” I shouted over the roar. No tender hug. “Take me home now!” he shouted back.

• • •

Future tip for airport pickups (especially at holidays): pick up your beloved arrival at departures. Traffic in these lanes is moving quickly, so everything’s more relaxed. In Nashville departures are up one level from baggage claim, and you’re tired and dragging luggage, but pickup goes a lot more smoothly, I’m told.

• • •

            We fell into bed around 1:30am. Gerry awoke at 5am, still on Dublin time. I slept until 6:45am (late for me). We have had breakfast. We are, otherwise, an advertisement for the Walking Dead. But he’s home, and we’re a little travel-wiser. Merry Christmas!

It’s a Dog’s Life

We got a dog.


Suzy. (Note: you can enlarge any photo by clicking on it, and clicking again.)

We’d known we were going to get a dog (that is, rescue one, of course): Gerry’d had to leave his dog, Cleo, behind in Dublin, and, as he has been telling my felines Laddie, Spot, and Bean for the last fourteen years, he’s “a dog man.” So it was always a plan. Gerry and I both grew up with dogs (in my case, dogs and cats); it had only been since I was divorced that my pet roster narrowed to cats only.

The cats ignored Gerry’s “I’m a dog man” line and climbed into his lap all the same. Bean, in particular, is quite fond of him, and his lap is the only one Spot will sit in. The cats weren’t concerned about our dogged plans.

But Gerry began to follow a dog rescue group based in Cookeville, and that’s how we found our Suzy in the last week of March. She’d been abandoned by her male owner (a backyard breeder, apparently) just two weeks before we adopted her. We don’t know much about her past, other than he’d bred her very young, twice (she’s about three). We think he may have been mean to her. She was frightened when we picked her up at a meet-and-greet at Petco in Cookeville—timid, resigned, and anxious. Before we left the store we bought food and a bowl, a collar and leash, a crate and nice pad for it.

In those first days, she retreated to her crate a lot.

Suzy, first week, in her crate.

Suzy, first week, in her crate. It’s her safe place, of course … but she looks so sad.

She was (and is) very well-behaved, but so, so sad. I used to tell people if you looked up the definition of hangdog in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Suzy. It was heartbreaking. She was OK … but so sorrowful. We’ll probably never know why.

Gerry started taking her on a long nice walk every day. And she got to know the cats. Spot was the first to come around, within hours. He could tell she wasn’t a threat. It took Laddie four or five days; he swatted her the first time she got too close, and after that she averted her face every time she saw him. Bean—our frail, sometimes cranky female—was a little harder nut to crack, but now even she is fine with Suzy.

The ongoing familiarization process with Suzy and Bean. Gerry is so patient.

The ongoing familiarization process with Suzy and Bean. Gerry is so patient.

Gerry spent plenty of time with Suzy, telling her how much we appreciated her. They watched a lot of TV in the man cave.

Well, one of them watched.

Well, one of them watched.

She fell into the routine of our household … feeding, walks, the cats’ habits, hanging out with Gerry, going for rides in the car (she loves that). We saw that she was comfortable with visitors—any friend of ours is a friend of Suzy’s—but she doesn’t jump up on anyone or otherwise invade a human’s personal space. She is a Lab, obviously, and we learned that she is a “yellow Dudley” Lab (that brown nose, her pale eyes). It was clear that she was getting comfortable, less worried.

Gerry spent a lot of time bonding with her.

Gerry spent a lot of time bonding with her.

He plays with her, talks with her.

He played with her, talked with her.

She hangs pretty close to him. She likes me OK—but Gerry she loves.

She hangs pretty close to him. She likes me OK—but Gerry she loves.

She even hung out in the office when we were working. (Actually, when Gerry was working there. My presence was immaterial.) 🙂

Suzy in the office with Laddie and Bean.

Suzy in the office with Laddie and Bean. 

But I kept hoping she was happy, that she would quit worrying the other shoe was about to drop and relax into a home that was all hers. I kept hoping for a “smile” from Suzy. And finally … she did.

Yeah, we think she’s happy.

Yeah, we think she’s happy.

We’ve learned Labs are always hungry. Suzy scours the floors every day for crumbs that might have fallen. She doesn’t miss a trick: I dropped a raw egg once and it was gone in a second. I didn’t even know she was close by, but there she was, slurping it up before I could tear off a paper towel. She ate a big hunk of dropped watermelon not too long ago. That said, she seems to be trustworthy around food. We don’t give her too much temptation but she hasn’t shown any inclination to put her paws on the counter or table. She is well-mannered, though I fear it may be that those manners come at a price paid to someone else who wasn’t very nice about it.

She’s a very quiet dog, doesn’t vocalize much. But she does bark when she sees a stranger on the front porch or a dog walking by on the street with one of our neighbors (there are windows by the front door, and she enjoys looking out). She doesn’t play—doesn’t chase balls or Frisbees, doesn’t play tug-o-war. We can only imagine that she doesn’t know how, or that play was discouraged. Gerry tries, every so often. The tennis ball just sits forlornly where it landed until one of us picks it up and stores it in the garage until the next moment we get hopeful.

Suzy does chase squirrels, though, and patrols the backyard constantly on the lookout for them. She sees them from inside and goes right to the back door, on high alert.

Squirrels, beware! Suzy is determined!

Squirrels, beware! Suzy is determined!

Earlier this year—and early in her tenure with us—she got out of the house, loose without a leash … the gate left open once, slipped out the front door once. In both cases, she was easily corralled; she only was running around with glee, playing chase with us in the yard next door. I don’t think she wants to get too far away; she just likes to run, to blow it out. She runs every morning in the backyard too. She does her business, and then she just revs up her motor and runs back and forth across the yard a few times.

Suzy also loves riding in the car. Window open.

Car selfie with Suzy.

Car selfie with Suzy.

When the weather was cooler we took her with us all the time, because she could hang out in the car. Now it’s too hot for that but we do take her for a ride every Friday morning, before 7am, to the farmers market, which is on a nice piece of land with a pond. This started simply as a leashed walk in a different place, but then we wondered … could we let her off the leash?

Why, yes, yes, we can let her off the leash. She runs, yes, but she stays in our orbit. She has no interest in being separated from us.

Why, yes, yes, we can let her off the leash. She runs, yes, but she stays in our orbit. She has no interest in being separated from us.

She found the pond in no time, and when we took her back the next Friday, it was like she couldn’t believe her good fortune. What? The pond again? Her joy was palpable; she ran back and forth along the wet edge, getting faster and faster.

This is not a great photo but you can see her speed: those are splashes behind her, where she has just been.

This is not a great photo but you can see her speed: those are splashes behind her, where she has just been.

It was only later that she took a dip.

It was only later that she took a dip.

Now we travel with towels.

Getting dried off.

Getting dried off.

This dog. She delights us. And perhaps the sweetest thing is her friendship with Spot the cat. Spot was a feral rescue (yes, truly feral, not stray: there is a difference), and though he has tried, he has never truly integrated with our other two cats. His body language is all wrong; he doesn’t “speak” cat, at least not the dialect of cat that Laddie and Bean speak. But with Suzy—who we suspect may have never had an animal friend, either—he can just be himself. Remember, he accepted her the very first day.

Now they have each other, these outsiders. They are friends. They play. They walk around the yard together. Spot has figured out the time and duration of Gerry and Suzy’s morning walk, and when they return to the house, he is waiting (having been fed and allowed out about sixty minutes earlier) on the porch to greet them.

Sometimes he comes out to greet her, sometimes he waits for her to come to him.

Sometimes Spot comes out to greet her, sometimes he waits for her to come to him. Here she pulls Gerry in her haste to see her buddy.

They bump noses.

They bump noses.

It’s very sweet, this friendship. They often find each other in the backyard. Sometimes they play (Suzy on her elbows with her butt in the air).

This is the beginning of play action. It may not look like much, but …

This is the beginning of play action. It may not look like much, but …

… maybe this photo tells a little more of the story. :)

… maybe this photo tells a little more of the story. 🙂

More often, though, it’s just a quiet stroll around the yard. Spotty usually leads the way, with Suzy following alongside.

“Fancy meeting you here,” she says, her tail wagging.

“Fancy meeting you here,” she says, her tail wagging.

This was the last photo in a series in which they started under the tree and walk all the way around the yard.

This was the last photo in a series in which they started under the tree and walked all the way around the yard. Side by side.

We got Suzy on March 27th, so we haven’t quite had her four months. But you can see in the later photos how her facial expressions and demeanor have changed. She is more doglike, alert. Alive. We pray that she has forgotten her horrible beginning, that the peace and pleasure of her life now is all she thinks of, though we’ll never know for sure. We’re so glad she is ours. Our good dog.

Suzy watching television with Gerry. (You think she’s sleeping but look again at the tail.)

Suzy watching television with Gerry. (You think she’s sleeping but look again at the tail.)


Fledgling Failsafe

The sound of birds screaming—yes, screaming—in the backyard means only one thing: There is a baby on the ground!

It is early morning and I am using the screen door for that hour or two we can enjoy fresh air before the heat takes over. I’ve lived in this house long enough to be familiar with the backyard sounds. There’s always lots of ambient bird noise (we have lots of bushes and trees), and I can tell the difference between normal and screaming. Something is up.

I immediately hustle out there and bring Laddie the cat—who does not have a nestling in his mouth, but was simply strolling through the yard doing his unintentional impression of a Large Black Monster—inside.

… an unintentional impression of a Big Black Monster: Laddie.

… an unintentional impression of a Large Black Monster: Laddie.

When Gerry and Suzy the dog get back from their walk, I caution them to keep an eye out and naturally Suzy finds the baby pretty quickly. “Suzy!” we shout, and run over.

The baby is on its back, wings spread, eyes closed, neck bent. Oh no. Such a beautiful little thing, gone. A precious life. I bend over to scoop it up; a last gentle touch is all I can give it.

And I would have, except just as I touch its little head, it opens one eye, squawks, leaps to its feet, and takes off running across the yard. Who knew baby robins had a play-dead failsafe instinct?

We bring Suzy inside, keep the cats in all day. The backyard is, at the moment, safe for baby birds. All is calm.

Baby robin on our backyard bird table with Mrs. R.

Baby robin on our backyard bird table with Mrs. R.


A Personal Manifesto?

Ah, I love this guy James Altucher. I’ve followed his blog for a few years and while I don’t generally get in to the whole business / finance / hedge fund / entrepreneurship thing—maybe I should, though, since editing isn’t exactly a moneymaker—there’s just something special about James. He’s the real deal.

So James says* you need a personal manifesto. And his is a good manifesto. You should read it. I did. So far today, reading down James’s list, I’ve …

  • been out of my comfort zone
  • laughed
  • listened
  • kept my word (more like follow-through—but still)
  • read (always)
  • and I have been very, very grateful.

Not such a bad start. I think I would add, of course, build as much travel—even if it’s just back and forth to Nashville for a special event—as you can into every year of your life. Because, I’ve noted above, I believe travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. And for the times in between? Get a pet. You’ll live longer.

Still life with Spot.

Still life with Spot.

The Christmas Headache

Thursday, 18 December 2014 / Day 1
Oh, that last month before my December trip to Phoenix to visit my son and his girlfriend was a stressful one! I had lots of work deadlines, primarily. But … Thanksgiving. And I had to do something about my health insurance. And it was the run-up to Christmas, for heavens’ sake! Presents to wrap, a housesitter (OK, really a catsitter) to break in, plans to make for after the holidays … and on and on. I was a little crazy/frantic.

And the big question: Would I take work with me? I needed to. I had a couple of hot deadlines. But I also was really worn out. Not thinking about work for ten days would be nice. In the end, I left it open. I always travel with my laptop, and it has work on it. So I could open a manuscript if I wanted to.

Somehow, the penultimate day arrived. Everything, astonishingly, was done—although by the time I headed downstairs to finish packing, it was 9:15 and I’d been nursing the Christmas headache for a couple hours. (So called because I’d been getting the headache almost daily for a couple weeks. What else could I attribute it to but holiday stress?)

I’d shipped the Christmas presents ahead, but I was bringing country ham and bacon for all the people I would visit and stay with, which I’d frozen and now packed in a thermal bag.

I’m always a little keyed up the night before a trip. I’m a bit of a worrier. This particular night my housesitter, the delightful Alex, was out later than he intended to be, and I couldn’t rest comfortably until he was in, which means, in the end, I had 2 hours of dozing until he arrived, and then another 2.5 hours of sleep until the alarm clock went off. Man, was I tired.

Friday, 19 December 2014 / Day 2
My flight was scheduled to leave at 7:10am, and we’re forty minutes away from the airport, so yes, I was up much earlier than I normally like to be. But Alex drove me in, which made departure easy.

Love that Early-Bird boarding pass with Southwest. I liked to be near the front and in this case I was on the aisle with someone who’d been preboarded—a beautiful, fashionably dressed (and slightly hard of hearing) ninety-two-year-old woman who split her time between family in Nashville and family in Phoenix. She was accompanied by her daughter, who was about my age, and we enjoyed a nice chat. Across the aisle were five separate unescorted minors traveling to see their noncustodial parents. They were so well-behaved, and gave me an insight I’d never had: my son, too, was an unescorted minor traveler twenty years ago.

We landed in Phoenix a little early. Jesse had been in school (he’s a teacher) all morning, but this was the last day before the holiday break, and he was able to get away in time to pick me up.

 I think I love the Phoenix scenery because it’s so different from what I’m used to. Those mountains!

I think I love the Phoenix scenery because it’s so different from what I’m used to. Those desert mountains!

Windows in this building are shuttered electronically—and programmed, I’m told, to spell out various messages.

Windows in this building are shuttered electronically—and programmed, I’m told, to spell out various messages.

We went first to Tempe to see our friend Pris. This is a great story, the sort of thing that just doesn’t happen in this day and time. When Jesse was about to move to Phoenix for grad school some years ago, he was having trouble finding an affordable place to live. Finally Kevin, the young man who’d been his campus guide—and was in the tuba studio of Sam Pilafian, where Jesse would also be studying—said, “Oh, just move in with me and my parents. My older brothers moved out and the house is kind of empty.”

Well, I’d been the mother of a boy for twenty-two years at that point, so naturally my reaction was … well, skeptical. “I think I need to talk to the mom first,” I said. And the next day, my phone rang, and it was Pris, and we talked for two hours at least and at the end of that time we’d bonded and Jesse was moving in and that was that. Pris is Jesse’s Arizona mom, and these lovely people are his Arizona family.

Nine years have passed, and we’ve remained close. When Pris heard I was coming to Phoenix, she called to offer me the use of her car and her second son’s condo (he and his wife were out of town for the holidays). This was a huge blessing; the financial life of a freelance editor can be, occasionally, rocky.

A threesome selfie: Jesse, Pris, me. So happy to be here!

A threesome selfie: Jesse, Pris, me. So happy to be here!

Kaci was just about to get out of school (she’s also a teacher), so Jesse and I headed back to their house in central Phoenix. We were all anxious for lunch—I’d had nothing but a Quest bar and a couple cups of coffee all day—and ended up at Gadzooks on Seventh Street, a place Jesse and Kaci enjoy. (As they should: the restaurant is owned and operated by and targeted at the millennial generation, as discussed in this article from AZCentral: “Phoenix eatery Gadzooks embodies how Millennials dine.” It’s very interesting, actually.)

It was a beautiful day—nice enough to sit outside. Gadzooks allows you to customize basic meals with fresh, interesting additions.

It was a beautiful day—nice enough to sit outside. Gadzooks allows you to customize basic meals with fresh, interesting additions.

We did a little Christmas shopping …

The First Draft Book Bar! Housed with a used bookstore—what a fabulous idea!

The First Draft Book Bar! Housed with a used bookstore—what a fabulous idea!

… and then went back to the house to relax. (It had been a long day for all of us.) We enjoyed all the teacher Christmas swag—lots of homemade edibles like chocolate-covered pretzels—and I met the two house cats, Penny and Max.

Kaci, Max, and Jesse

Kaci, Max, and Jesse. Don’t forget, you can click on any photo to enlarge it. The better to see you, Maxie!

I’ve never met a cat that didn’t love a suitcase. This is Penny.

I’ve never met a cat that didn’t love a suitcase. This is Penny.

And that was enough for one day.

Happy Birthday! And Welcome to America!

30 May 2013, Thursday

We’ve learned it is much easier to turn in the car the day before—it is always likely there will be others turning in cars as the same time; the line can get long. If you are also trying to catch a plane, you could get nervous.

Or at least I could. 🙂 And I don’t like to be nervous or rushed. So when we turned the car in yesterday, we had nowhere to be but dinner and to bed.

This morning we were at the dining room when they opened for breakfast at 6:30, and by 7:00 we were getting on the shuttle bus to airport. For some reason the Dublin Airport has a shuttle bus lot; passengers are dumped here—nowhere near the actual departure gates—and must hump their luggage over to a terminal. In Nashville the shuttle buses pull up in front of departures (or arrivals) and let folks off right there. These are shuttle buses from hotels, shuttle buses from off-site parking lots, shuttle buses from car rental places (which are on-site). Doesn’t that make sense? They even do it that way in New York, for heaven’s sake. But … I guess it doesn’t have to make sense.

We had to go all the way over to Terminal 2 (fortunately there were trolleys). But by the time we checked the luggage, went through security and then through U.S. pre-customs (very handy, honestly), it was 9:00am. Good thing we didn’t want anything from the duty-free shops.

Wait, did I say pre-customs was handy? Maybe so, but it’s not pleasant. The customs agents are not friendly. Not nice. I mean, I’m a friendly, smiley, chubby middle-aged woman holding a United States passport; the customs agent was American. We were both Americans, not to put too fine a point on it, and I felt, at the very least, unwelcome and definitely under suspicion. Not a happy transaction.

To Gerry, a non–U.S. passport holder, they were even ruder. When the agent asked him how long he was staying and he said, “Returning on June 27,” this person gasped and said, “Four weeks!” (Why all the drama?) And then she asked him if he was employed and asked him to prove it. This sort of thing, frankly, pisses me off, as an American. Is this how we treat every humble person seeking to visit our country? No wonder others have a bad opinion of Yanks.

WELCOME TO AMERICA! (And you are, actually, considered to be in American territory once you’ve run that nasty little gauntlet.)

We had to show our passport five times from the time we entered the terminal to the time we got to the gate. And by the time we got there (again, 9:00), there was barely time for Gerry to buy us a couple water bottles and go to the loo, and then they were boarding us. I guess that’s a plus.

It’s so nice to travel home with someone. It’s particularly nice to travel home with the one you love—it makes an arduous journey merely long. And you can people-watch together.

I got quite a kick out of this young guy sitting across the aisle and one row up, already asleep, or trying to be. If I’d had to guess, I’d have placed him at nineteen or twenty, but you can see he has a bottle of wine (at 11:00am, which makes me tired just thinking about it), so he had to be at least twenty-one. He was traveling alone (we watched him come in, get settled) … with a bear. Yes, that is a very well-worn Winne-the-Pooh tucked under his arm. Gerry said, “Oh, he’s taking it back as a gift for someone,” but I say he’d have packed a gift. Or at the very least put it in the overhead bin or his carryon. But he held on to it for seven hours across the ocean. I’m just sayin’.

What do you make of this? Is that bear a gift for a younger sister he’ll be meeting in Chicago? Or a source of comfort? Hmmm.

What do you make of this? Is that bear a gift for a younger sister he’ll be meeting in Chicago? Or a source of comfort? Hmmm.

We lost him in Chicago, of course. And what was supposed to be a little one-hour layover turned out to be a two-hour layover, because, as it happened, President Obama was visiting the Windy City. It just about shuts down the entire city when a U.S. president comes to town.

However, we ended up having a fun conversation with a young Irishman sitting near us. (Anyone reading a book is fair game for me, you know!) He was twenty-four and a physical therapist. He’d been working as a freelancer in Ireland (you know: two weeks here, two weeks there) and had an opportunity for a two-year contract in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was very, very excited about it. Even more interesting, his girlfriend was following him. She is a schoolteacher, so she was trying to get all her paperwork in order to teach in North Carolina. Charlotte’s a lovely town (in spite of the fact North Carolina’s slowly becoming a red state), so I hope they have a good experience there.

I said, “Oh, your mother’s going to miss you.” My son is thirty and lives a four-hour plane ride away from me; an ocean of separation would be hard to take. But! He set his mom up with an iPad so she can Skype him. Good boy! He was truly delightful. From County Meath.

They finally loaded us but then the runways were backed up. Obama was long gone but O’Hare was still recovering from all the flights that had been held back. We had four flights in front of us, and we looked out the window and saw several behind us, so we were even later getting off the ground. However, they made it up in the air and we arrived in Nashville on time. A birthday miracle!

If you’ve been keeping score, you may have relized that Gerry hadn’t been to his Tennessee home in a year—since April 2012—and I’d had to leave my foxgloves before they were in full bloom, because spring was so late. So as soon as we got home, we had a walk around the yard.

The roses were in full swing.

The roses were in full swing.

The cats were a little bewildered at first, but they warmed up fast. The Feeders! The Feeders were back!

And since we’d put up the fence in March, we’d planned an ambitious landscaping overhaul, which involved killing some grass. We were anxious to see how it was all going.

Looking good! And Spot is … well, who knows. (Actually, a raised, flaglike tail is a sign of greeting.)

Looking good! And Spot is … well, who knows. (Actually, a raised, flaglike tail is a sign of greeting.)

My foxgloves had bloomed and were a bit blowsy, now, but still beautiful to me.

Foxglove, 30 May 2013.

Foxglove, 30 May 2013.

We unloaded the car, had a cup of tea, ate a little supper, and fell into bed, exhausted. And that, my friends, is how I spent my (mumble mumbleth) birthday. 🙂

NOTE: If you’re just joining me and would like to read about this trip from the beginning, you can start here. If you would like to read about other trips in chronological order 🙂 just click on “Where to Start” above.

West to East, a Quiet Sunday

26 May 2013, Sunday

We got up early to hustle east and get to the kennel, since they would close at noon. Ursula cooked us another wonderful breakfast. And at last I got to commune with her little cat that I’d seen across the road in the field.

Bridie—she’s a dog-gal, as Gerry is a dog-man—still had a kind word for this little girl (whose name I can’t remember). She was very soft.

Bridie—she’s a dog-gal, as Gerry is a dog-man—still had a kind word for this little girl (whose name I can’t remember). She was very soft.

It was very quiet in Mountshannon on this Sunday morning (very early!). So we stopped in the middle of town so I could take some photos, coming and going.

Coming … the lane that runs between the stone building and the orange building goes to the lake. That magnificent pine tree is just behind the orange hotel.

Coming … the lane that runs between the stone building and the orange building goes to the lake. That magnificent pine tree is just behind the orange hotel on the right.

… and going. We’re headed this way, west on the R352. Along the lake.

… and going. We’re headed this way, west on the R352. Along the lake.

Because we’d come in to Mountshannon on the M6, the less desirable route, we hadn’t seen much of Lough Derg then. On Saturday we went down to Mountshannon’s small harbor for a few minutes and learned about the sea eagles. Later when we drove from the church to the hotel, we didn’t have time to stop to admire the view. I wanted to be sure we took a moment to do so before we left. After all, Derg is the second-largest lake in the Republic, and the last of the three largest lakes along the River Shannon. Check it out:

I know, I know: ever since I figured out how to embed the map, I can’t resist using it. (It’s not like it’s new technology, either.) But I can spend some serious time poring over a map (what is my obsession with knowing exactly where I am?), so you get to share the joy. 🙂

Lough Derg from the R352. It’s lovely.

Lough Derg from the R352. It’s lovely. And remember, you can click on the photo to zoom in.

Lough Derg. It was a beautiful day.

Lough Derg. It was a beautiful day.

This time we took the M7 all the way back to Dublin. And we saw lots of interesting brown signs which have been duly noted for “next time.” (Brown signs indicate points of interest. Honestly, you could go with no itinerary at all and just let the brown signs lead you around.) One thing that caught my eye on this drive was a billboard out in a field, which was unusual because you just don’t see those. The Irish countryside is really unspoiled in that respect. And then we got close. It was an advert for the pub in Moneygall where President Obama had a pint last year. Monegall: “Obama’s ancestral home”! Oh my.

So we got to the kennel just before closing, to rescue Cleo (she had a grand time, really). And at Gerry’s place we got Bridie unpacked and settled and had a nice cup of tea. Remember that apple tart we bought yesterday? Mmmmm.

Apple tart—gorgeous!

Apple tart—gorgeous!

And then I commenced the second half of my vacation; this time I’d be staying in Dublin City proper. And I’d be driving in Dublin City. Ms. Emily GpS took us right where we needed to go, and after a little bit of “Here? Or there?” we figured out the parking situation. (With these things just tucked into every little nook and cranny, they’re just not always obvious to my American eyes.) Most fortuitously, I got parked without annoying the desk clerk (as I had at Bewley’s) too.

We were staying at the Camden Court Hotel, and already there was a difference: we were greeted with a cheerful smile and parking is free (highly unusual). I fully recognize these hotels each have a different trade; Bewley’s, near the airport, sees folks maybe for one night, businessmen who just want a room now because they have to catch a plane early. (The room here at the Camden Court was ten euro more per night, but we’d paid eight euro per night to park at Bewley’s; I’d call that a wash.)

Situated in downtown Dublin near the Grand Canal, the Camden Court has a different trade altogether, and we would learn about that soon enough—it caters to tour groups. So there were moments when the lobby was packed, but most of the time it was quite nice.

The quiet lobby at the Camden Court.

The quiet lobby at the Camden Court.

We will definitely stay here again. We got settled and then went out for a walk around the neighborhood to get oriented. Have a look:

Everything you might want was close by—pubs, fantastic restaurants, shops of all sorts (none of them touristy). The neighborhood (called Portobello) seemed to be quite multicultural, too, which I always enjoy. We stopped in an upscale grocer and bought fruit and cheese for snacking, and chocolate bars to bring home. (I also bought a packet of these. OMG. Seriously, the best mass-produced cookies I’ve ever had.)

We had a casual meal in the hotel’s pub, then we were in for the night. Gerry was working on the wedding video and I was editing (because, yes, I’d brought work with me).

Stick around, though: I’ve got a big day planned for tomorrow—and lots of photos!