Friday, April 21, 2017

Delayed Mourning Catches Up to Me

Marigold loved to supervise projects like packing.

On Wednesday, November 30, 2016 Chad and I took Marigold to our faithful veterinarian to have her euthanized. Marigold lived over nineteen years, an uncommon feat for a Persian cat.  I grudgingly witnessed the clues that Marigold's quality of life declined: sleeping in odd places, weight loss, diminishing use of her back legs, and finally, a large lump on her jaw. I gave Chad and the veterinarian a well rehearsed speech about how it was time to let her go. I rehearsed that speech so much, because I had to convince myself of its truth before I gave it to other people.

At the time I steeled myself against feeling Marigold's loss too deeply. We had (and still have) three other resident cats and a big dog upon which to dote. We housed a foster cat who had just been rejected from an adoption program the week before Marigold died. The foster cat, though very loving to people, made it clear she hated other cats by attacking our two male cats anytime she got out of her room. The foster cat situation added exponentially more stress to an already stressful time. Thankfully, the foster cat entered a different cat adoption program on January 20, 2017, fully two months later than we intended to keep her. The day I dropped off the foster cat at the adoption center, she shook with fear in her carrier as we waited to enter. She peered at me pleadingly from the holding kennel, leaning as far as she could to keep an eye on me as I filled out her paperwork. I thanked the adoption center worker for accepting the cat as I handed over a cutely worded, but honest, information sheet I had prepared to aid in the cat's adoption. Back at home, I spent four hours scrubbing, disinfecting, vacuuming and steam-mopping the foster cat's room. When I finished cleaning, I sat on the sofa and sobbed for thirty minutes. I felt miserable about dropping off the foster cat. I felt like a failure for not finding her a home. When I told a dear friend about how awful I felt the next day, she responded, "You saved that cat's life." That's how I try to see it now.  I hope our former foster cat is very happy with her new family.

Four and a half months after making the decision to euthanize Marigold, I started dreaming about her. I dreamed she was fluffy, healthy and happy. In the dream Marigold telepathically told me she was at peace and pain-free. She showed me a ghost of a teenage boy, and warned me about him. Dreams are weird, am I right?

Two nights later I dreamed about Marigold again. In this dream I worked in Austin's historic Scarbrough building again. Behind an old bank vault, I discovered a secret staircase leading up to a modest apartment frozen in time in the early 1920s. There was a china hutch displaying pastel floral adorned fine china dishes. Old furniture supported impressive spider webs and dust layers. Marigold walked through the living room, leading me to the lovely claw-foot bathtub in the apartment's single bathroom. I marveled at the secret apartment discovery so much, I forgot to pet Marigold, or even greet her properly in that dream. When I awoke that day from that vivid dream, it hit me: I forgot to grieve for Marigold.

I have been a weepy mess for the past two days. I miss my dead Marigold so much. I miss the way she would meow at me until I picked her up and put her on my shoulder like a baby. I miss her twice-daily races up and down the long hallway in our house. I miss her sitting next to me on the sofa purring loudly. I even miss her sneezing fits, when I had to massage her throat to calm her enough to stop the sneezes. I miss her general sassy demeanor and her radiant, massive halo of gold fur. I miss that Marigold loved her Janie-dog, napped happily next to Janie and sniffed Janie's frito-scented feet.

This too shall pass, but I have to let the grief do what it will for a while. Proper mourning can't be delayed indefinitely. It will catch up to you.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Five Shop Small, Shop Local Insights

I was raised mostly in the Southern Baptist Church with a brief stint in the United Methodist Church. Chad was raised in the Catholic Church. We observe the Lenten Season, the 46 days from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, each year as a time to challenge unhealthy (physical, spiritual or mental) behaviors. Chad gave up sweet snacks like candy, Oreos and ice cream. I gave up shopping at big box stores, behemoth online retailers and chain stores, in an effort to support small maker-owned businesses and locally owned businesses. 

Lite-Brite Egg, Happy Easter!

Here are five insights from my "shop small, shop local" 46 day Lenten experience.

1. I messed up once. We drove from Austin to Houston for a fun weekend. I got a beverage at a Starbucks along the way. My rule for being out of town was to patronize locally owned businesses in whatever town I visited. This was easy to do in Brenham, Texas on the historic downtown square. This was not easy to do along Highway 290 on the way to Houston. With better planning, I could have found a locally owned coffee shop along our travel route. (Hello, Google Maps "nearby" search option!) I am simply not in that habit.

2. I didn't order anything on Amazon. I went to local independent bookstores, BookPeople and Half Price Books when I needed (okay, wanted) a book (okay, three books each trip). I went to locally owned pet stores such as Tomlinson's and Phydeaux & Friends when the pets needed food, a new kitty condo or new chew-toys. I went to locally owned A-Town, Blue Elephant Boutique and Terra Toys when I needed to buy gifts or treat myself.

3. I didn't order any fashion items from Nordstrom. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is for me. I realized that going in person to local boutiques and actually trying on clothes before buying them makes for much more satisfying purchases. I also learned that I don't necessarily need another LA Made V-neck pocket T-shirt. I just need to do laundry more often to keep my current collection ready to wear. (But I really, really love LA Made V-neck pocket T-shirts which are made and designed in the USA!)

4. I realized I don't usually eat at restaurants that aren't locally owned. Eating local was easy-peasy in Austin, Texas and in Brenham, Texas. My favorite local Austin restaurants include Guero's, TacoDeli, Kerbey Lane Cafe, Hyde Park Bar & Grill, Chango's, Manuel's and El Mercado. Chad and I also hit up the hot bar, ready-prep foods case and the salad bar at Wheatsville Co-op a few times a week. We are member-owners of Wheatsville Co-op, and are thankful for this wonderful grocery store.

Lovely Chandeliers at Manuel's Restaurant

5. I realized that I don't like shopping at big box stores. It was easy to avoid Target, Lowe's, Home Depot and all that mess. I went to Zinger Hardware and Shoal Creek Nursery instead. Luckily, I didn't need to purchase any new bedding or towels during Lent, because those items might have been difficult to source from a locally owned store.

Chad at Zinger Hardware. I forced him to pose. Look at that good-sport-grin!

I ordered a few things online directly from artist-makers during Lent. I bought a lovely Fordite sterling silver ring from Siesta Silver Jewelry, a small business jewelry artist. I bought the Austin Adult Coloring Book from the website for local Austin artist, Rebecca Borrelli, because it was sold-out at the shop I visited.

Overall, this experience of shopping small and shopping local for 46 days forced me to pause and consider each purchase. I corrected an irresponsible behavior of automatically ordering things from Amazon and Nordstrom, of not supporting my local economy or makers. I'm not saying I'll never shop chain stores again, but I will try local shops and maker-owned businesses first.

Lite-Brite Chicken, Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Night of the Peacock variety show to benefit SAFE

My incredibly talented friend, Max Langert, is at it again. On Sunday, April 23, he is producing a variety show called Night of the Peacock at Mayfield Park with proceeds to benefit SAFE. Mayfield Park is longtime home to many generations of peafowl in a gorgeous natural setting near the shores of Lake Austin. Musical guests, poets, storytellers and theatre folk will perform at Night of the Peacock. (I am one of the storytellers. Come hear me perform my story titled Powerless Peacocking about my encounter with a pickup artist.) SAFE stands for Stop Abuse For Everyone, and is a newly formed nonprofit alliance between Austin Children's Shelter and SafePlace. This is a truly necessary organization, much deserving of funding.

The show starts promptly at 6:00 PM on Sunday, April 23. Seating begins at 5:30. Come early to enjoy the park and meet some majestic peacocks. Mayfield Park is located at 3505 West 35th Street in central-west Austin.

Click to buy your tickets here!

Bring cash for fresh-baked sweet treats from Casa de Glaze mobile bakeshop and raffle tickets for a prize basket that includes a gift certificate to one of my very favorite Austin restaurants, The Beer Plant!

Five Highlights from 48 Hours in Houston

I attended the TRIO for Paws fundraiser back in September at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin on the shores of lovely Lady Bird Lake. The event raised money for EmancipetAustin Pets Alive! and Austin Humane Society. There were cute adoptable puppies, a silent auction, live music, yummy passed hors d'oeuvres and information tables for each of the beneficiary nonprofit pet groups. I experienced a cute puppy, beautiful setting, feel-good pet rescue haze when I repeatedly bid on, and ultimately won, a weekend stay in an Executive Suite at Four Seasons Hotel Houston as part of the silent auction. Many thanks to the Four Seasons Hotel for hosting this event and for donating generous silent auction items!

Chad and I finally used our gift certificate last weekend in Houston. The Executive Suite is huge at over 700 square feet! The bedding is plush. The Four Seasons Hotel Houston is located conveniently near the convention center, Toyota Center stadium and Discovery Green park. Here are five highlights from our 48 hours in Houston.

1. Discovery Green

Discovery Green is a 12-acre park in the heart of downtown Houston, just steps from the Convention Center. Discovery Green offers green space, large-scale public art, a lake, jogging trails, water features and splashpads, a fenced dog park, a tree lined promenade, several open lawn areas and a few restaurants. Discovery Green was hopping with activity the evening we visited: dogs frolicked, people took photos in the large-scale art, kids romped, circus performers held an interactive hula-hoop performance while a ringmaster-DJ played electronica music. The park provides a much-needed break from concrete and skyscrapers!

2. Montrose Murals & Shops

Montrose is a mostly residential neighborhood in Houston with a mix of old bungalows, historic mansions and some modern construction. The area also boasts many thrift & vintage shops, fabulously funky stores, with huge colorful wall murals on businesses and restaurants along Westheimer Road. We wanted to see the wonderful weirdness that defines Montrose before it's all priced-out of the rapidly gentrifying area. It was imperative that I snap several photos of this humongous lucky kitty outside of the Ramen Tatsu-Ya restaurant! There's a person on the porch behind the kitty to give you a sense of scale. I especially enjoyed shopping in Merchant and Market, procuring a lovely beaded vintage handbag there. 

3. Kuhl-Lindscomb bills itself as a design and lifestyle store. This sprawling campus of a department store is a visual feast. We didn't buy anything here, but spent an hour gawping at every well-curated corner of the place. Just wow! We also met Bandit, the prosperous ebony shop-cat who lives in the kitchens and bath showroom building. I failed to snap a photo of that lucky kitty. 

4. Panic! at the Disco concert at Toyota Center

Houston's Toyota Center is the giant stadium where the NBA's Houston Rockets play basketball. It also hosts music concerts. The venue can seat over 18,000 people. Our seats were in the nose-bleed section. I get vertigo in the cheap seats of large stadiums. I feel dizzy and my ears ring. I seriously considered sitting on my bottom like a toddler and scooting down the steep stairs to our seats, but I kept it together with a white-knuckle grip on the stair rail. Chad and I seemed to be the only people over the age of 30 at the concert who were not either working there or accompanying teenagers to the show. In other words, we were surrounded by ten-thousand screaming teenage girls (and a few teenage boys) who knew every word to every song. Fine. Over it. Panic! at the Disco put on an amazing show complete with glitter canons, metallic streamers, pyrotechnics and a baby grand piano that rose 20 feet above the crowd and rotated as lead singer Brendon Urie played piano and sang "This is Gospel" beautifully. We had a great time!

Located at 222 Malone Street in Houston, the beer can house began in 1968 when a retired upholsterer, John Milkovisch, started to cover his yard with concrete, marbles and bits of metal forming mosaics, because he didn't want to mow the lawn any longer. Then he turned his attention to the house, and started covering it with beer cans. The estimated 50,000 beer cans provided insulation for the home and increased the energy efficiency. Mr. Milkovisch considered his beer can projects to be a fun hobby, not works of art or a statement. He did enjoy people's reactions to the home as they drove by or strolled by. The home is now maintained by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. If you find yourself in Houston, definitely see this marvelous place!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Five Favorite Flashback Songs - Grocery Shopping Edition

Has this happened to you? You're in the grocery store/co-op, not really hearing the music issuing forth from the speakers. Then, a song that you love starts playing. You smile. You feel a little better about your day. You might even bop your head to the beat. Yeah, everything is going to be okay, even if you can't find that pasta sauce you like that always seems to be out of stock.

1. I Can't Wait by Nu Shooz

2. Steal My Sunshine by Len

3. Word Up by Cameo

4. I've Been Thinking About You by Londonbeat

5. Modern Love by David Bowie

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hawaiian Island Goals: April 2018

Chad and I have decided to do a few short-travel-distance, no-flying mini vacations in Texas this year, instead of our usual one semi-fancy, non-family-visit vacation that we try to take each year. (Yes, family members, we will still fly out to Georgia and to North Carolina to visit at some point this year. Chillax.) We're saving money for a trip to Hawaii in April 2018! Neither of us have ever been to Hawaii. I hope it will be a great blend of familiar and exotic.

I've started researching. I think we'd most enjoy Oahu or Maui. We love to snorkel, hike and look at waterfalls. We like beaches, but we don't surf. We don't have children, so no need for a family friendly resort. We don't golf or play tennis, preferring instead to enjoy the natural setting during vacation.

Have you been to the Hawaiian Islands? Please share advice, must-do items and must-not-do items in the comments. Thanks!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Five Tidbits from a Mini-Family-Reunion

Brenham, Texas sits halfway between Dickinson, Texas and Austin, Texas. That's the reason my cousin, who lives in Dickinson, and I chose to meet there for lunch with my aunt (his mom) and our shared grandma who are visiting from Arkansas. I don't get to see my relatives often. My sister's family and my mom live in North Carolina. (I never lived in North Carolina, so it's not going "home" when I visit them.) As mentioned, my aunt and grandma live in Arkansas. My uncle lives in Wisconsin. I have a cousin living in Florida. Like many modern families, we are a mobile bunch, untethered to any common hometown. I'm thankful that I got to spend time with part of my family this week.

1. While admiring an antique fire engine display near Brenham's town square, my grandma (a.k.a. Mimi) said to me, "When I was little, I thought fire trucks went around to people's houses starting fires. I hoped that they wouldn't come to my house." She shrugged and grinned. I gave a half-giggle with a bright sunny smile and responded, "That's kind of terrifying."

2. Brenham is the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream. In 2015 there was a heart-breaking listeria outbreak that resulted in illness, deaths and a temporary factory shutdown. During lunch I said quietly to my cousin, "You know how in Ireland you don't joke about the potato famine, or even really bring it up? I feel like you don't talk about the Blue Bell troubles here in Brenham." My cousin replied in his deep, naturally resonating voice, maybe a bit too loudly, "Oh, that e-coli or listeria thing?" I glanced around nervously to make sure the locals weren't giving us mean looks or grabbing pitchforks before nodding in confirmation.

3. My aunt told us that she saw a mountain lion in her hometown in Arkansas. The mountain lion was huge, glowing like gold as the morning sunlight hit its fur, as it casually stalked a doe and a fawn. Local wildlife officials say there aren't any mountain lions in the area despite sighting claims by different locals. My aunt asserts that they haven't possibly checked every cave or cavern, and should stop saying there aren't any mountain lions.

4. There are numerous antique stores in Brenham. Because I toiled too long in retail jobs, I personally don't love shopping as a hobby or activity. I don't have a refined appreciation for dusty, rusty antiques. I don't need more stuff to clutter up my cozy, mid-century, bungalow-style home. However, my aunt appreciates antiques, and enjoyed shopping while I enjoyed sitting outside on sunny benches with Mimi chatting. We all marveled at the architecture of historic downtown Brenham.

5. Having never seen the flowers in real life until her trip down to Texas this week, my aunt announced that she loves bluebonnets. She delighted in up close encounters with the blooms as we walked around Brenham.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Five Times I've Been Out of My Comfort Zone

Comfort zone refers to places, activities and experiences with which individuals are familiar, feel safe, feel at ease and experience minimal stress. As a sometime-actress I am often pushed outside of my comfort zone for acting roles. For the purposes of this list, I'll limit myself to one performance/actress example.

1. Exploring Manhattan by myself on my first trip to New York City

Oh, hey, big city. I'm going to walk around by myself now. No, I'm not sure where I'm going. Everybody be cool, because I couldn't bring my pepper spray on the airplane with me. I haven't found the Duane Reade store yet to buy more pepper spray. No, I do not want to take the subway by myself, but thanks for offering. Exploring the big city on my own while Chad worked was worth it.

2. Snorkeling in Key West

I am not a strong swimmer. Snorkeling in very choppy salt water off the coast of Key West presented a physical and mental challenge. I was a big dork, and used a float-noodle in addition to my buoyancy vest to stay atop the waves. It was a trick to not inhale salt water through the snorkel air tube every time a wave crested near me. I was brave. I stuck with the challenging conditions instead of climbing back onto the safety and comfort of the boat. I was rewarded with the sights of colorful tropical fish and coral reefs. Snorkeling in rough waters was worth it.

3. Performing a true story I wrote for testify ATX

I am accustomed to sharing the stage with other actors, and performing other writer's work. It was one of the most nerve-wracking things I've ever done to stand on stage for twelve minutes telling my own tightly scripted story. Getting my story out to an appreciative audience and exorcising the past trauma was worth it.

4. Giving a cat a shot or subcutaneous fluids

Even the sweetest cat can be unpredictable, hissy, scratchy and/or snappy when you stick a needle into it. I had to regularly give insulin shots to a few diabetic cats when I worked for Furry Godmothers as a pet-sitter. I also had to give immunizations to a few of the adoption center cats when I worked for the pet rescue organization. The hardest thing I had to do was administering subcutaneous fluids to cats. I inserted a sturdy hollow needle into the cat's scruff (back of neck area). I had to keep the cat calm and still long enough for hydrating fluids to flow from an IV bag into the cat via the hollow needle. This typically took about two minutes if I was able to subdue the cat and if the needle stayed in place. A four-pound, twenty-three year old cat who I really loved left me with a scar by which to remember her during a particularly contentious round of fluids. Helping those cats was worth it.

5. Working at that high-end men's clothing store downtown

I didn't attend an exclusive preparatory school. I wasn't in a fraternity. I am not a member of a country club. I don't play golf. I am not a man. My personal style skews a bit bohemian, and is not at all in line with traditional, preppy, upscale mens' clothing. I won't lie. I took the job for the fairly predictable work schedule (a real luxury after my last job's punishingly unpredictable schedule) and the pudgy paycheck. (I wouldn't call that paycheck fat, just pudgy.)

Working downtown in the ever-increasing congestion and crowds of Austin also presented challenges. Despite my expensive parking contract, a few times each week, I struggled to find a parking spot to accommodate my compact MINI Cooper. A few times a month I would have to park illegally just long enough to run into the parking garage office and inform them that there wasn't a single spot left in the nine level garage even after going all the way up and down two times. They would usually send me to another parking garage down the street to begin the hunt again with a validated parking pass for that garage. I was late to work many times due to the parking spot scarcity of my oversold parking garage. That parking garage also typically smelled of drug-tainted urine and skunky smoke. The nine-story structure featured two very slow elevators that often were out of order and a triangle-shaped enclosed stairwell with uneven stairs, all the better to trip upon.

Working at that job downtown for just under a year was not worth it.