Being a Cat Lady

Before Tara, I’d only ever lived with dogs, fish, and gerbils. The gerbils were in childhood, the last of my 3 fish died just after college, and the dogs were my roommates in my working adult life. So living with a cat has been different. I knew and loved the feeling of walking with a dog, being greeted at the door, and I still love to surprise Addie and watch her bound toward me, wiggling with excitement.

While watching a friend’s two dogs and my roommate’s dog for the weekend, I enjoyed a small pack. I felt powerful and fun, with all these well-trained dogs who were so happy just to be near me, tumbling over each other to press against my legs as we navigated to the door and played in the yard. However, coming down the stairs the other day with Tara, who’d slipped inside to hide in the shadows of the upper landing, I realized that this is how being a cat lady feels. This sly, silent little kitty wants to be near me, will get into mischief and then follow me back out of it. With her tail in the air and her nimble paws on the steps, I felt trusted and graceful and capable. 

I like being a cat lady. When writing recently, Tyler brought Tara in to see me. Without speaking, he released her in the hallway and she came silently into the room, leaped up onto my lap, and stepped on my keyboard. I’ve heard writer friends describe this very scenario so many times, and now it was happening to me. I hoisted Tara up onto my desk and watched her explore it. When taking a long nap the other day, Tyler brought a sleeping Tara to lay on my blanket with me, a curled up comfort. And when he’d had a stressful day at work, I brought him out to Tara to cheer him up.  

Cat lady life agrees with me. I like being inside, like writing and reading and watching movies, like cuddling and napping. All of these things can lend themselves to life with a dog, but in my experience, the dogs get bored with me, and then I feel guilty for not being more fun. And I’ve enjoyed doing these things outside with Tara. No, I don’t enjoy the scratches of bites when Tara gets overstimulated (she is teething), but I’ve felt the tiny daggers of puppy teeth and taken my share of scratches from excited, bouncing dogs. I know that cats can be trained, much as dogs can. 

And, of course, Tara is adorable. Her latest game is to hide under my the full-length skirts before bounding out to attack a nearby toy. This game is similar to one she likes to play behind the curtains on the porch. Tiny but growing, she’s cuddly and pretty patient considering the number of times Tyler and I try to pick her up and cuddle with her. She’s got moxie, pushing against us to get down when she’s had enough without using her claws. Yesterday, she spent over ten minutes determinedly pulling a wand toy from her basket, then cheerfully dragged it around the room for another ten. She’s loving and gentle in surprising ways. She’s also stubborn, but that just means she’s part of the family. 

I love my cat, and I love being a cat lady. 

Summer Reading, 2019 – Romance

Within the last month, both of my best friends at work (who are also very good friends outside of work) took other jobs and moved away. Several other coworkers, all on whom I get along with and have worked with for years, have also left the company this summer. In no small part because of this upheaval, I’ve found myself voraciously reading my comfort genre of romance. 

Here’s a list of some of my favorite romance reads from the summer.

Upcoming romances I’m excited about:

3 Actions to Help the Amazon Rainforest

If you just recently learned about the massive wildfires burning in the Amazon rainforest, or if you’re learning about it from me right now, the situation is both dire and seemingly far away. This affects the very air we breathe and the overall temperature of the planet (trees store CO2; when they burn or die, that CO2 is released into the atmosphere). The fires were intentionally set by cattle ranchers and soy farmers. The Brazilian president accused non-governmental organizations (NGOs, charities basically) of setting the fires, then denied he said so. So what can we do about it? Here are 3 action items!

1. Learn and Share

For a wider context, this book about human-caused climate disruption includes a chapter on the forests, particularly the Amazon rainforest: The End of Ice by Dahr Jamail.

This article also includes a detailed list of action items, including organizations to which you can donate, petitions you can sign, and other products to avoid if you want to do more for the Amazon rainforest than what I’ve suggested.

Also, these wildfires have been raging for three weeks, but there’s been very little media coverage, even in Brazil, until a few days ago when the excessive smoke turned Sao Paulo as dark as night at 3:30 in the afternoon. Tell your friends and family what you’re learning.

2. Boycott Beef

This is probably the easiest and most impactful thing we can all do.

Cattle ranchers and soy farmers are the main people accused of setting the fires, and have been primarily responsible for illegally clearcutting the rainforest in the past. Soy, beef, coffee, and paper products are significant exports for Brazil, and all contribute to deforestation at the best of times, but I’m focusing on beef because it’s such a prevalent food in my diet. There are 3 main Brazilian beef companies. Look at each of their websites for lists of brands they supply. 

Just because a pet food, for example, advertises being “made in the USA” doesn’t mean they don’t source their beef from Brazil (see Redbarn Pet Products). Likewise, just because a steak house has “Texas” in the name doesn’t mean they don’t buy Brazilian beef. The same can be said about where the beef in your hamburger and on your pizza was raised. This is a boycott, not a lifelong lifestyle change, so when conditions improve, I’ll happily order a ribeye again.

It’s easy to vilify the farmers and ranchers who set the fires, but keep in mind that most are extremely poor, and are setting fires because they are desperate to support themselves and their families. Donations to organizations assisting local communities help people from getting into those desperate circumstances.

3. Write to your elected officials.

Below is my letter to my senators and congressman, which I sent on my lunch break. Feel free to adapt it for your own purposes.

In light of the escalating wildfires in Brazil, I am writing to encourage you to support the State Department in putting pressure on Brazilian beef and soy industries, which have been accused of setting the fires and have long been responsible for illegal clearcutting of the rainforest. The region is so biodiverse, and we still know so little about what lies within it. We’ve already lost countless species to these fires, and we will never get them back. We don’t even know what we’re losing because deforestation and now these fires are wiping out huge areas of life so quickly. The wildfires are now so massive that dieback may set in, causing a feedback loop of death in response to death, killing parts of the rainforest where the fires haven’t reached. This dieback would turn the “world’s lungs” into arid land, perhaps even a desert. The world’s lungs will be dead. Plants and chemicals only found in the Amazon and used for medicines prevalent throughout the Western world will be gone forever. These wildfires threaten the very air we breathe. Even without dieback, massive amounts of carbon dioxide are being released into the atmosphere by the dying trees, further contributing to climate instability and extreme weather across the world, including wildfires in Alaska and hurricanes in the US’s Gulf and Atlantic shores. This is not a tragedy isolated to Brazil, in cause or impact. Please respond strongly and swiftly to help mitigate the devastation. 

Summer Reading, 2019 – Audiobooks

We have a house! And a new kitten! Let’s look at the kitten.

This is Tara. She’s a rescue from Animal Welfare, and she’s precious and spunky and we adore her. 

Between her and the house and moving and travel for work and my brother’s wedding, we’ve had a busy couple of months. While packing, unpacking, cleaning, and traveling, audiobooks have grown even more important to me. They’re the main way I’ve consumed books since June, and they make my now longer commute far more enjoyable. I’ve also recently discovered Audible’s collection of original content, including one-person plays. Here are my top reads of summer/moving season:

The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption by Dahr Jamail

A former war correspondent and seasoned traveler, Dahr Jamail brings us around the world with him to witness the ways human-caused climate disruption is changing our world forever. He climbs mountains, snorkels reefs, hikes the woods outside his own home. He interviews elders in Alaskan fishing villages, the city planner of Miami Beach, Denali park rangers, and scientists all over the world, focusing on how our planet is already too warm for ice—our glaciers, ice caps, and ice flows—to survive. It’s just taking a few decades to melt. And once it does, what will our world look like? How high will the ocean be? How will the rivers and forests be affected? What coral and fish and trees will survive? This is a bleak but realistic look at the unfolding crisis, inspiring me to do all I can to engage with nature, push my elected officials for more stringent environmental protections, and visit these iced places before their ice is gone for good. 

Wally Roux, Quantum Mechanic by Nick Carr (read by William Jackson Harper, aka Chidi from “The Good Place”)

After The End of Ice, I needed something lighter, and quick. I was interested in this Audible original, but when I saw the narrator, I was sold. And I’m so glad my love of Chidi led me here, because Wally Roux was delightful, exhibiting excellence in Sci-Fi, excellence in coming-of-age stories, and, of course, excellence in narration. I wanted to hand this wonderfully charming, realistically yearning book to all my coworkers, but of course it’s hard to do that with audiobooks. So if you have Audible, treat yourself to this delight, just under 4 hours long.

A Grown-Up Guide to Dinosaurs by Ben Garrod

I loved dinosaurs as a kid. I still enjoy seeing new reports and news articles about dinosaurs and other ancient animals. So I thoroughly enjoyed the 3-hour Audible original about what we know, think we know, and get wrong about dinosaurs. (Spoiler alert: Jurassic Park lied to us.)

Other books I read and adored this summer:

3 Items to Pack for College

As I walked through Kohl’s this weekend, I found a section stuffed with back-to-school wares: colorful mirrors, fuzzy pillows, bright shower caddies. Already! I started thinking again about the two high school graduates who I wrote to earlier this summer, the journey they’ll take, and when they’ll walk aisles like these looking for things they’ll need. As I hurried toward my kitchenware destination, I thought about what purchases the summer before my freshman year of college best served me. What turned out to not just be useful, but unexpectedly vital in my college and post-college life?

I feel like I should say “pack your intellectual curiosity,” and that’s definitely important. But I’m thinking more tangibly. If you’re assembling a going-to-college kit, you likely won’t forget towels or a new shower curtain or a laundry hamper, and once you get there you’ll realize you need more spoons and an extension cord. Give it enough time, and probably wish you packed these too:

1. Flashlight 

The one on your phone will work until the power’s been out all afternoon and you need to save your phone’s battery so your alarm will get you up for class in the morning. Or until you need something to lay on the sink while you use to the window-less bathroom. The flashlight, ideally, will be tactical, with grooves and ridges around the light in case you ever need to break a window or figure out which end not to point at your face when you wake to heavy darkness in the middle of the night. During hurricane season, I’d trade my kingdom for a battery-operated camping lantern and phone charging pack. But for shorter outages, the main thing I need is a handy flashlight.

2. Screwdriver

This should at least have an interchangeable head to accommodate Philips (cross-haired) and flathead screws. It doesn’t need to be fancy (ratcheting, 11-in-1, in the shape of a crab). I’ve been the only person on my hall who could produce a screwdriver; why it was needed has slipped my mind, but I remember being widely applauded for it. I’ve also been the only person in my house for the weekend, desperately trying to stop the old-school smoke alarm from screaming. I’m all for power tools, but a basic screwdriver is lightweight, portable, and appropriate for just about any situation. 

3. Duct Tape 

This doesn’t have to be name brand or even grey. But it’s kept my bumper from falling off, kept a milk carton from leaking in my trunk, kept my trunk from leaking in the rain, and kept my bookshelves from completely collapsing. You feel like you’re prepared for anything with a roll of duct tape. And, with a little creativity, you’re prepared for more than you think you are.

Happy shopping!

Winter Reading, 2019

I used to give a book 100 pages to win me over. Then 50. Now, if I’m not enjoying it after 30 pages, I put it down and leave it behind. I let myself quit reading when I’m not longer enjoying a story, either, even if the book or series is well underway. Last summer, I was in the middle of well-touted book beloved by several of my friends. I had been listening to it on Audiobook and I’d invested 5 hours in it. But I had 9 left to go and I wasn’t willing to give that time to that story. So I took it off my phone, bought another audiobook, and started listening to it instead.

Here are the books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this winter:

The Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn
A Curious Beginning
A Perilous Undertaking
Mystery, romance, young adult; so much fun!

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
Memoir; adoptee searches for birth parents while she’s pregnant with her first child

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Creative living/writing guide

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
Romance; sequel/companion to The Wedding Date

A Quiet Life in the Country by T. E. Kinsey
Cozy mystery, historical, 2 middle-age spinster protagonists; fun romp!

***

And here are the books I’m looking forward to reading this spring when they are released:

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Fantasy, young adult; centers on my favorite character from the Shadow and Bone trilogy (which, with the Six of Crows series, is going to be a Netflix series!!!)

The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf
Historical, young adult; Beatles-loving protagonist with OCD tries to cross Kuala Lumpur during the 1969 race riots to find her mother

Queen’s Shadow by E. K. Johnston
Fantasy, young adult; the same author who wrote the Star Wars book I pined for and dreamed of as a kid: Ahsoka; George Lucas did Padmé so wrong

The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey
Mystery, historical; sequel to one of my favorite books of last year: The Widows of Malabar Hill

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
Fantasy, romance, young adult; opening line: “People lived because she killed. People died because he lived.”

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn
The fourth book in the Veronica Speedwell series.

What Do I Thirst for this Christmas?

A friend recently pointed me toward Mary Oliver’s poem “Thirst” and encouraged me to consider what I am yearning for in the coming season. I’ve been reflecting on this all month, both because it’s Advent and because I’ve been in the habit this year of writing in my One-Line-a-Day journal. I’ve found it supremely helpful to spend a few minutes summarizing the day, good and bad, before bed. However, it’s rather different to look back on a single day than to look forward several weeks toward a day seeped in so much expectation and attention and baggage.

I have been looking forward, however, with the help of a one-page-a-day Advent journal. Each day of December, the journal prompts you to answer a question about your upcoming Christmas and provides space for you to record the festive things you did that day. Many of my entries thus far include passages processing my younger cousin Santee’s death, as well as notes about what gifts I’m looking forward to giving, what traditions are new for Tyler and I, the movies we watched, the shopping I did, and the flavors I’m experiencing (like gingerbread cookies and peppermint hot chocolate).

So what do I thirst for as Christmas approaches?

Comfort for Santee’s friends, girlfriend, sister, and niblings. I yearn for comfort as well for our extended family, including conversation about Santee’s life and death. A death so near Christmas, as well as experiencing the first holiday without a loved one, is it’s own unique brand of pain. Worse because your grief is in direct tension with calls to be jolly and joyful and the insistence that all is merry and bright. Our family has experienced this before, but many of Santee’s friends won’t have.

Time to rest and enjoy the season. That means time to read a fluffy Christmas romance and watch a ton of movies. That means time to bake and make ornaments. Time to run errands without feeling rushed. I’d love to get my wedding photos organized and printed but I’m concentrating on enjoying the season, not bogging myself down with something I can do any time of the year.

Peace for all people. The peace I refer to comes from a Hebrew word, shalom, referring not only to a cessation of violence and vehemence but also the wholeness and wellness of the entire community. This won’t happen on the scale I want, maybe not even in my family, so I’ve chosen several ways to work toward providing a more peaceful holiday for others.

What do you thirst for as December trots on? Silence? Solitude? Companionship? Rest? Understanding? Shortbread? I’d love to hear the desire that sings for you.

November Made

I’m planning a series of more reflective posts for Advent, which starts next week, but I didn’t want to get off schedule too much before then. So bear with me for a brief overview of my November creations.

I’ve been crafting again! Okay, I didn’t stop. In the past month, I’ve crocheted three pumpkins (orange, white, and green) and a turkey (Terence, my first foray into stuffed animals, as evidenced by the crooked tail feathers and oddly proportioned head). I turned a few empty ornaments into mini winter wonderlands and displays for our keepsakes like graduation tassels and a bracelet from our honeymoon. I have plans for a few more ornaments, if only I can get the right size and shape plastic ornaments.

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I made a banana pudding that only required me to go back to the store once. I chickened out on the meringue, as I’ve never made it by myself before and the pudding was intended for Tyler’s family Thanksgiving. Tyler and I made beef stew, taco soup, and a potato casserole together. The soups were experiments in our Instant Pot, both of which turned out well and froze well (important when you’re only feeding two at a time). We also baked whipped shortbread cookies and snickerdoodles. The snickerdoodles will definitely come out of our kitchen again.

Tyler created a gorgeous and highly delicious unicorn cake for my 30th birthday that I love too much to not mention here, though it certainly wasn’t my accomplishment.

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I read two books: An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof and Cancer Just Is by Morgan J. Bolt (this one was for work and I loved it). Both are excellent memoirs, the first about two years sailing the Caribbean and food, the latter about four years of cancer treatments and theology.

I didn’t participate in NaNo in a traditional sense this year, but I did use it to track the words I wrote on all my many writing projects, most of which are secret. I’m happy to report that I broke 10k words yesterday, which was my goal for the month.

I’ve seen 12 Hallmark Christmas movies so far this season, my top two favorites being “Road to Christmas” and “It’s Christmas, Eve.” (The full list is below.) Tyler hasn’t been very impressed with Hallmark movies so far, but he’s now seen 5 and has survived very well. I particularly enjoy when he starts shouting at the characters.

-Christmas at Pemberley Manor
-Christmas Joy
-Road to Christmas
-Let It Snow
-Christmas at Reindeer Lodge
-Christmas in Love
-A Bramble House Christmas
-Engaging Father Christmas
-Marrying Father Christmas
-It’s Christmas, Eve
-A Veteran’s Christmas
-Christmas in Graceland

We’re planning to put up our tree this weekend and I’m hoping to finish the ornaments and a wreath I have in mind by then. The calendar has really thrown me off this year. I’m used to transitioning directly from Thanksgiving to Advent, but we have a whole week in between. Whatever your week looks like, I hope it’s bright and life-giving.

Weekend Watching and Summer Reading

Weekend Watching Recap

1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Netflix)
A 16 year old’s secret letters to her crushes, some years old, get mailed. Including one to her first kiss and one to her neighbor, who her older sister just broke up with. Yikes. A soon-to-be-classic teen romance starring an East Asian protagonist.

2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Netflix)
Just after WWII, a London writer begins conversing with a member of a book club on Guernsey, an island in the English Channel which was under German occupation. The writer travels there to meet the club’s members, including her handsome pen pal, and begins uncovering the mystery of what happened to the book club’s founding member.

3. Crazy Rich Asians (theater)
An NYU economics professor is invited to join her boyfriend on a trip home to Singapore for a friend’s wedding, where she discovers he’s the “crazy rich” Prince Harry of Southeast Asia. And almost no one—from his mother to the bride’s friends to strangers on the street—are happy about him choosing a “commoner”. A modern Cinderella retelling with an all Asian cast.

All three movies are based on books! Speaking of books…

Summer Reading Recap

Furyborn by Claire Legrand
If you don’t like fantasy, this book is my best hope for changing your mind.

The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean
A compelling, complex, nuanced love story that begins with a petition for divorce.

The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford
A novel about the real journey that inspired at least 3 of Agatha Christie’s novels, including her most famous.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
One of the best Agatha Christie’s I’ve read yet.

Jackaby series by William Ritter
Sherlock meets Grimm-style fairytales in an alternate 19th-century NYC.

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
While filming a mockumentary in the Marianas Trench, the crew discovers real (murderous) mermaids.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
I’ve written about this book before. Basically, it’s a novel in prose and you need it in your life.

Tropic of Squalor by Mary Karr
A short but deep collection of poetry by a best-selling, hilarious memoirist.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I’ve read this 4 times in as many years.

2 Wedding To-Do Lists

Yesterday was exactly 2 months—61 days—until our wedding. Tyler and I spent this past weekend with my family, playing games and eating barbecue and addressing, stuffing, and stamping our wedding invitations. Despite the massiveness of this accomplishment, and of how excited I am to be just 2 months away from our wedding day, I’m finding myself in a constant hum of low level stress about all the details still needing to be handled.

Here is yesterday’s wedding task to-do list:
-Address, stamp, and stuff invitations for 2 remaining wedding party members
-Address 3 final invitations
-Distribute invitations to coworkers
-Mail all invitations
-Email florist
-Email coordinator
-Fill out coordinator’s questionnaire
-Review photographer’s timeline
-Forward timeline to coordinator
-Call salon to make wedding day apts
-Email Maid of Honor re: mobility needs for hotel
-Call hotels re: mobility accessible rooms
-Visit 2 hotels to look at mobility accessible rooms
-Book hotel room
-Update “Accommodations” section of wedding website
-Research traveler’s insurance for honeymoon
-Email photos to the bridesmaid who’s designing the guestbook

And on top of all those wedding items, I went to work, went grocery shopping, cooked dinner with Tyler, and read a little. Only 3 items didn’t get done. It was a productive day and I feel good about it!

Here’s today’s wedding to-do list:
-Fill out coordinator’s questionnaire
-Call salon to make wedding day apts
-Research traveler’s insurance for honeymoon
-RSVP “no” to 2 showers that conflict with wedding events
-Order gifts for 2 showers

Honestly, despite the amount I got done yesterday, it’ll probably take me a couple days to finish what’s left on this list. I’m already getting tired and my schedule today gives me less time to get wedding-related things done.

I like to try to get a lot done early in the week, when I’m energetic and am still capable of making decisions. By Thursday and Friday—sometimes even by Wednesday—I’m asking Tyler to pick what we’re having for dinner, napping after work instead of making calls or cleaning, and telling my bridesmaids that whatever they want for the shower/dinner/art project will be fine. By the end of the week, I’m less capable of handling the volume.

In addition to the big party and big trip I’m planning, I’m moving in two months. I’m trying to enjoy the time left with my roommate and her dog, stay on top of my nutrition and exercise, maintain my close relationships, prepare for married life, make sure family members and friends feel included, get ahead on my work projects, write occasionally, read, clean, check the weather, do laundry, and not bore everyone around me by talking about all these things.

One weeknight recently, Tyler asked me if anything was wrong. I had been quiet for a while, trying to think plan for all that needs to be done. I asked him to tell me that we’re going to get everything done and everything’s going to be okay.

I thought it’d be nice, though definitely not necessary, to hear. When he repeated my words, though, so sweetly, I started crying. I hadn’t let myself feel the weight of my stress until that moment. I hadn’t meant to let myself feel it at all.

Tyler asked me to pick two things I was stressed about. I picked unpacking wedding shower gifts and writing thank you notes, and for the next hour he worked on one while I worked on the other. Then we picked two things we couldn’t work on immediately—packing and moving a nightstand from my house to his apartment—and promised to make progress on them this week.

All-in-all, there really isn’t much left to do. Everything and everyone necessary for the wedding and reception are booked. My calendar knows who needs to be paid when. It’s the details that are adding up now. Still, as my aunt told me earlier today, this is normal. It doesn’t feel like it, but it is.

The most important thing is that we are blessed with friends and family and family-to-be who love us and who we want to celebrate with. The lists will get done. Or they won’t. Lord willing, we’ll be married in two months. And that’s all that matters.