A Cat and a Career

Tomorrow morning I’ll sit in the chair looking out over the trees on the street below my bedroom window and think how I used to balance my books on its arms as I read and wrote because our cat would lay in my lap—stretched out, paws crossed, eyes closed and purring to the quiet sound of my prayers.

Rose is a stinker, feisty and free, able to outsmart the den of foxes that used to live next door. Undaunted by them, she’d lie sleekly across the sidewalk, flaunting her bravery. Bunnies, birds and mice her prey, without front claws she’d scale a tree if necessary.

But she didn’t come home this week. She may have been outsmarted.  I’m sure she put up a fight and if she went down it was on her own terms—free to roam, to explore, experience life’s beauty. It’s interesting that she chose this week to depart—the same time of year as my mom and brother. I’m conscious of my heart, its size, its weight. Our pets come in and go out like our accomplishments—a gift so present one day and suddenly gone the next.

Love your pets. Enjoy your accomplishments when they’re there. I’m working hard to replace the hole in my heart.  We’ll be looking at a couple cats this week that need a home.

I know this doesn’t sound related but stay with me. I’ve spent a couple years trying to preserve and document Dad’s life and accomplishments as a way to hold on to him if the time came when he, like Rose, would not be knocking, (or mewing) at the back door. And just when I thought we’d finished those stories, we were outsmarted, so to speak.

We were on Washington Island together recently when he told me this:

“Well, after fifty-five years as an architect, I’ve done some reflection.  When I graduated from college I thought I would design worship spaces that would help bring people to Jesus.  St. Edmund’s congregation has moved on and the building is for sale.  The Chrystal Cathedral in California, perhaps the grandest scale of church architecture stands empty and is also for sale.  Whereas, there are church ministries worshiping in remodeled warehouses all over, and are very effective. The conclusion I’ve reached therefore is, it’s not about architecture.  So what does that mean?  My life as a church architect was a waste?

“My journey as an architect taught me a lot and gave me many opportunities to witness for the Lord.  But did the spaces I create accomplish this?  No.  I believe the answer is no because that which I pursued could never be attained.  And yet perhaps, there were aspects of that journey that were beneficial to the purpose I pursued.  In the end, I realized that it can never be architecture that draws people to Jesus, it’s only the Word.”

I was moved.  I thought that was the end of the story. Then I got a call from Scott Sprout. He oversees missions at Crimson Way which is the new church, he said, inside the old St. Edmond’s which was just recently sold.  Scott didn’t know the architect was still living but found out he was when he came across Sundays with Dad. It looks like St. Edmond’s will once again be filled with music, and children and worship and, most importantly, the Word. You can imagine Dad’s joy when he heard.

They invited Dad to come and share the story of his design at the service tomorrow.  If you’re free, stop by at 10:30, 14625 Watertown Plank Road, Elm Grove. We’d love to see you.

So, just when I thought it was the end, I discovered it was only another new beginning.

God bless you Rosie.

Afraid of Balloons

Some people wait for years to replace a beloved pet. Not us.

When we had to put down Pisgah—my fifteen year old Cocker Spaniel—I couldn’t go back  home without her there to greet us. She had been through my first marriage with me. After my divorce, she was with my son Charlie when I couldn’t be.

20131216_211037_resizedShe was my jogging buddy—always beside me, leash-less. When her years began to add up and she started to lag behind, her long silky ears flopped all the more from the extra effort. She began to surrender on her squirrel chases. She became deaf and found her way by scent.

In spite of it all, as she aged, people would still ask if she was a puppy.

20131216_211355_resizedAfter a bath one night, she shivered and was short of breath. I thought it was from the cold but it didn’t stop. We soon discovered that her heart was enlarged. It couldn’t contain all her love.

20131216_211054_resizedTodd stood by my side as I held her in my arms and she looked up at me. The vet gave her the shot that put her into a sweet, deep sleep.

It was too hard to walk back into our house after that so we went for lattes. We came up with the idea to take a drive to the pet store where my brother had found a puppy.

We walked in and I immediately noticed a teddy bear. He sat up with a stick-straight dancer spine and looked me square in the eyes. Hopeful anticipation…..Please love me ma’am (get me out of here!). I asked to hold him and the salesperson took him from his cage and set him down in an observation pen.

20131216_211644_resizedI watched him play, rubbed his belly, let him lick the tears that were still fresh in my eyes, and tried to stop him from gnawing on my fingers with his sharp teeth.

20131216_211454_resizedBy the time Todd found out we couldn’t afford him, it was too late. Without any research, we made an impulse buy and busted our budget. We were so sad and Sam was such fun. We returned home with a big pen and all the dog accouterments—poorer but puppy rich.

20131216_210942_resizedI sobbed through that evening, playing Puccini in Pisgah’s honor while Sam scooted around.

20131216_210735_resizedHe chewed the legs of all our furniture but was particular about the shoes he ate. They had to be new and bone colored. He destroyed our rugs and carpeting and ate anything—including a lighter. He was a butane hose for days and had to spend them all in his pen.

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Frozen in snow after playing with his best friend Cookie Dermond

Garbage cans scare him. He is a sniffer not a jogger and can easily spend thirty minutes on one block. He was hard to train and still jumps up on guests. He snarls at some dogs but only after I have assured the owner he is friendly.

He got his certificate from obedience school because the trainer was relieved to be done with him. “This is how you walk a dog,” he would say taking Sam by the leash and proceed across the room. “Heal! Heal!! HEAL SAM!!”  Sam does not heal.

20131216_211813_resizedHe is strong-willed but sweet and confused about being a dog. He sits on the stairs like a person—upright on the step. He has made our furniture his own and when Todd gets up in the morning, Sam immediately jumps up beside me and lays his head on Todd’s pillow.

20131216_211743_resizedWe work all day so we got a kitten to keep him company and named her Rose.

20131216_211621_resizedHer alley cat mom weaned her too early so the former owner’s dog had become her surrogate mother. When Rose met Sam she attached her mouth to a nipple. He stared at us, What the heck? but they became best pals.

20131216_211539_resizedI eventually got Sam to walk to the lakefront and home again without a leash. I would carry Rose along in a papoose. The three of us would do the full two and a half mile circle together…until the day Sam saw a parachute.

He stopped, turned and took off across the beach, running past honking, screeching cars. He was covered with the lake’s algae and tends to look rabid when wet. No one could catch him. He disappeared into the ravines. I called for hours. I was almost home when I noticed him sauntering along a couple blocks ahead of me.

I keep Sam on a leash now most of the time and have never been successful with getting him to walk leisurely on the lakefront. He’s always looking for that parachute.

So, when we brought balloons home from an event last night, Sam escaped up the stairs and hid in the bedroom.

He just has a thing about floating aberrations.

BalloonsI sometimes wonder what would have happened to Sam if we hadn’t been so impulsive that day at the pet store. It doesn’t matter….Sam has Pisgah to thank for that….and I’m sure he will one day.

20131216_210826_resizedHe’s just not ready yet to join her.

2011 Oct 18 Camera Download 001

What’s Up With the Bologna?

“I’ll get dressed and take you out, Sam,” Todd says to our dog as he runs up the steps and trips, causing a loud thud. I jump.

Are you okay…? I think but don’t ask. It’s early morning, I’m not really awake yet and Todd is a teaser. He might have planned the clumsy act to draw attention to the fact that I’m sitting on my butt while he’s preparing to walk the dog outside in the frigid air. I never know when he’s serious, even after seventeen years of being together. He enjoys crying wolf. “Do you need a hand…?” I think back to the time I had yelled down the same steps several years ago when I heard a crash in the kitchen.

“Yeah…..” he had groaned dramatically.

I ignored what I thought was his well-rehearsed moaning, “Really…?” and played along.

“Really, I need….” He repeated. “I need help. I really need you, Baby.” Oh riiiight.

When I got to the kitchen I saw that he was clutching his wrist and he was on his knees under the gas jet.

“I think I might need stitches,” he said as he worked to regain his balance and remove his wrist from the pointy spoke after trying to clean the cedar siding of a wall with a bucket of Murphy Soap and sponge. “It’s deep.” Don’t stand on a bar stool with no traction.

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Crooked gas jet since the slip

He almost severed his tendon. We went to ER that day and he went roller blading the next. So, ever since those two layers of umpteen stitches, I  jump up and run. Except this morning—I can see out of the corner of my eye that he’s okay and I push the guilt I feel for not walking the dog myself out of my mind. It doesn’t leave completely but it shifts.

Morning is the time I sit in my chair, watch the sun come up over the neighbor’s roof and turn my thoughts to what’s unseen, if that makes sense. My faith. I read, I ponder, I pray. I start every day with a devotion and several chapters of the Bible. I’d say it’s my coffee to get me going but I need that too.

This morning as I read, the message is clear. It appears three different times in three different places: It’s simple — what we think influences how we live. Then I’m distracted again as Todd starts making the bed. I could get up and help but I read on. I jot down the words …*think love, and love surrounds you and those you think about. Think ill-will and thoughts of ill-will surround you and those you think about. Is it that simple?

“Did you notice that the bologna is all cut up in little pieces?” Todd asks. “I tried to take a slice out for Sam and it fell all apart. I couldn’t even get one to his mouth. It landed on his bandana and got stuck there. He wasn’t too happy about that.”

I listen to him talk about the bologna but stay with my thoughts. I think how easy it is to be discontent in life—to be critical of yourself and others, to make judgments. I spend so much time worrying about what I do, what I say, what I think. Low self-esteem, I suppose you’d call it. It’s just another form of self centeredness. Why is it that I can see the good in others but not in myself?

“I did it,” I answer. “I cut up the slices. Use a spoon. Take a scoop, put it in Sam’s bowl and mix it in with his food. That way he doesn’t snort it down in one gulp.” Bologna is Sam’s treat after his walk. He has wheat allergies. Is there wheat in bologna? I wonder.

“Oh, I see. You don’t want to get your hands slimy.”

“Well, yeah, it’s pretty gross to touch so since he should only have half a slice, I went ahead and cut them. Then I thought, why not quarter them…before I knew it, I had made bologna bits.” Todd’s standing there looking at me. “Use a spoon,” I say and return to my reading. I run through an inventory of the people in my life. I wrap them in thoughts of love so it will surround them. Is it really that simple? Yes, I hear the voice inside me say.

Sam enters the room and lies down by my chair. He simply loves me. Why can’t we always love each other like that? He starts scratching, poor guy. We’re probably giving him wheat and didn’t know it. What if we all became allergic to thoughts of ill-will and started scratching incessantly when we thought them? That would help us ponder what’s good, what’s noble and just, lovely and pure—like I read in Philippians 4 this morning—instead of ill-will.

I close my books and rise from my chair to face the day. Think love, and love surrounds you and those you think about. It’s that simple.

20131210_075822_resized*from God Calling

Tappy the Mouse

“We have a problem,” my husband Todd says as I walk in the front door. It’s an early fall afternoon and I’ve just returned from a walk in the ravines with our dog Sam.

“What now?”  I ask as I enter the kitchen where he is sitting, not wanting to know.

“Rose caught a baby mouse and it’s on the patio—kind of fidgeting.” He says. “It looks shocked but it’s still alive.”

Rose is our cat.

“Well go kill it.” I tell him.

“You kill it!”

Todd heads back outside to work in the yard and I Google How to feed a baby mouse. I am introduced to Stuart on YouTube who is a big white mouse with pink eyes, and Matilda, who’s grey and smaller than the size of the quarter that has been placed beside her for effect. She’s nuzzling up to Stuart and he’s being very patient. This reminds me of Sam with Rose. My heart melts.

“Wait!” I yell. “Come here! Look at this! They’re feeding this little speck of a mouse some kitten formula with a tiny brush and she’s lapping it up.”

“I don’t want to see it.”

“Seriously, come and look. They’ve put the little thing in a shoebox and punched holes in the lid so it can breathe.”

“We don’t have a shoebox,” he grumbles.

Yes, we do. I’ll get it. You get the mouse.”

I go for the box and also grab a roll of unscented toilet paper, like the video recommended, and start tearing tissue. Todd returns with the mouse.

“Is it bleeding?” I don’t really want to know.

“No.”

“Put it in the box. I’m going to the store for kitten formula.”  I start to panic. Where do I get kitten formula? CVS. Hurry!  I say to myself. “We have to save the mouse!” I say out loud.

Mouse in a box

Mouse in a box

I return with baby formula and a little syringe. We can’t get the mouse to take the syringe—I go back upstairs in search of an eye liner brush.

“We should name him.”  I yell down.

Todd suggests Willie but that reminds me of my dad William and I don’t want to name this mouse after my dad.

“How about Tappy?”  Tappy reminds me of Danceworks, where I work. We need a Danceworks mouse. I get excited thinking about having a pet mouse at work and am certain everyone will take to him like I have—except for Elyse. She’s allergic.

“Sure.” Todd says about the name.

Tappy eats from the brush out of Todd’s hand just like on YouTube.  I can’t believe my heart is bursting over a mouse

We put him in the bathroom for the night with the lid of the box held open by a chopstick–so he doesn’t get claustrophobic?—and shut the door to keep Rose out.

We both dream of mice.

I wake up the next morning with a sore throat and fever. Todd informs me Tappy is gone. I think he’s teasing. How could it just disappear? There’s no way it could climb out of the box and get down from the sink. Then, it occurs to me Rose could have bounced the door open, gotten in, and eaten him. I’m heartsick and I can see Todd is not taking it well either.

Todd goes to work, leaving me alone in bed with orange juice, the mouse killer, and Sam.  Rose is being incredibly affectionate, cuddling up and massaging my arm.  I try to ignore the fact that she’s digesting a mouse and fall asleep.

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Mouse killer

I wake up in time to see her dash towards the big red chair next to our bedroom window. I jump up and see her take a bat at Tappy. Then, tucking her paws neatly beneath her, she sits and glares at him. I discreetly reach out and grab Rose as Tappy lies on his back with his little feet in the air.

I lock Rose in the bathroom, grab the box and return to find Tappy back right-side up. I pick him up with a piece of toilet paper, put him back in his box and take him outside, thinking he might do better with a little fresh air.

The sun is bright and I sit down beside him. He plays dead for about two minutes as I sing to him. Suddenly, he scratches his little ear, opens his eyes and stares up at me. “Tappy!” I’m overjoyed.

I call Todd to see if he thinks I should let him go and he says he probably won’t make it on his own yet so I head back inside with the mouse in the box.

That evening, Todd brings home some of his leftover Pakistani rice from lunch for Tappy.  He holds the tiny creature in his hand and feeds him more formula.  “He was doing much better last night,” he says.

“Maybe he doesn’t like spicy. I’m sure he’s going to be okay,” I reassure myself. Tappy scaled the wall of the box, survived a great fall, and escaped Rose, twice. He’s already on his third life. He’s a remarkable mouse.

I share the mouse video we made on my phone with the ladies at work the next day and make plans to buy him a cage and a wheel after work. I call Todd on my way home, and he says, “Tappy passed.”

I immediately burst into tears and I am shocked at the level of my emotion over a mouse. I call my co-worker, Amy the tapper, who inspired the name. There’s something so happy about Amy–about people who tap. I thought a happy name and an organizational affiliation could save the mouse. She listens to my Tappy story.

At work the next day, the ladies ask about Tappy and we’re all a little sad together—because that’s the way Danceworks is. If you’re down, which is hard to avoid in nonprofit work, our saying is, “Get in the wagon. Someone will pull.” We support each other. It’s a special place and this probably has something to do with why people of all ages and abilities take dance and get moving with us.

Amy entering a staff meeting

Amy entering a staff meeting

I thought this was a silly story about a mouse but I realized it’s about heart and a group of people that tell you to get Tappy, to get moving, to experience the joy.

Epilog–Todd helped me bury Tappy under the Bleeding Heart bush in our back yard. I wrapped the tiny body in a white Kleenex and set him inside a bloom from my Peace plant. Todd dug a hole and I placed Tappy in it. When I started to sing “Kumbaya My Lord” we cracked up.

Rest in Peace little Tappy.