My Life in Cat Years (the final installment)

VIII.

Molly, the immigrant.

Petite, polite, and personable,

the perfect tabby.

 

We adopted her while vacationing

 in the Bahamas

upon my daughter’s persistence 

and insistence

that the little stray needed 

a permanent home.

Molly arrived in the States

nestled inside a scuba bag

without protest,

and quickly assimilated to 

a new culture,

a new climate,

a new family,

with grace and a good-natured 

sensibility.

Molly’s love of chasing lizards

replaced by her fascination in 

the suburban foxes 

who integrated into our neighborhood

by the dozens.

Molly is mostly an indoor cat

but she enjoys her

early evening porch-sitting.

Yet on occasion, 

she has slinked out of our yard 

to mingle with the foxes.

Her flirtatiously submissiveness

is bold for a nine pound cat.

The foxes never hurt her.

But in their confusion,

they yip and bark

and run skittish circles 

around her. 

Molly is a dog lover.

She’s bestie with the family pooch, Ivy.

Pack sisters, soul sisters, play sisters.

You mess with one, 

you mess with the other.

When it is time for dog walks

Molly turns up her frisky monitor

and trails along behind us–

sprinting between parked cars,

scurrying up tree trunks 

messing with Ivy

who she knows is a worrier.

Molly makes human friends easily, too

She waits on the boulevard

for walkers to pass by,

then quickly trots out to introduce herself.

She uses a full body roll technique

which scores belly pets 

followed by back and forth side rubs 

against human legs.

Strangers are so convinced by Molly’s

affection, they assume she must be lost.

Our phone rings

messages from callers,

standing a few yards from our house,

they ask if we own a cat named Molly

whom they fear may be abandoned.

We open the door 

and give a wave of thanks, 

“That’s just Molly. 

She loves making new friends.”

Now in her twilight years,

Molly spends most days 

nestled in her heated bed, 

or in the crook of the couch cushion

or on a blanket of warm afternoon sun,

dreaming of the wilds,

a Bahamian-American life well lived.

IX.

Ollie, the pandemic kitten

this fall, my daughter struggled 

with Covid related anxiety 

and thought she might benefit 

from owning a cat herself 

“a comfort animal”

so she and her roommates 

adopted a little calico 

draped in a cheetah pattern 

with a caramel undercoat

all ears 

it has been a long time 

since I have been around a kitten

since I’ve been around 

the blur of speed and energy

since I’ve been around

three pounds of downy soft

but over the winter break 

my daughter brought Ollie home 

with her for an extended stay 

and I discovered a newfound joy

in spoiling and fussing over my first

cat grand-baby

My Life in Cat Years (continued)


VII. 

Steve the legend.

A long-legged Bombay 

with a personality as large 

as his male parts,

as noted by his vet,

who claimed Steve’s testicales

were the largest he’d ever seen 

on a cat.

That was Steve.

A daredevil with a baritone meow,

jumping from three stories, 

not once, but twice–

off an apartment window ledge

and an upper level deck.

If there was trouble,

Steve was in the middle of it.

Like the time I found him encircled 

by an enraged gaggle of honking geese.

He was independent.

If he needed a drink,

he turned on the faucet

If the room was dark,

he flipped on the lightswitch.

If he was bored,

he dropped a hair tie at my feet.

(Yes, Steve played fetch.)

Steve was a traveler,

moving with me 

from Michigan 

to Tennessee 

to Georgia 

to California 

and finally

to Virginia.

Steve was a life coach

helping me navigate through

my twenties and thirties: 

relationships, 

careers, 

and family life.

He was a cuddler.

Snoozing on laps, 

across pregnant bellies

and in the baby’s crib. 

He stretched out long

pressed against warm sides

paw draped across bodies,

Steve hugs.

Steve was the life of the party.

He commanded a crowd

and left an unforgettable impression 

on all those who met him.

Bombay cat walking

Stay tuned for the final installment of My Life in Cat Years tomorrow.

My Life in Cat Years (told in 9 parts)

Preface: I think only Charles Bukowski would appreciate this poem.

I.

Prince, the Siamese, my first

a gift from my veterinarian uncle. 

Regal, elegant and demanding. 

An asthma diagnosis in kindergarten meant 

Prince became an exclusively 

outdoor cat.

In the middle of the night, 

he packed his bags and left 

in search of a velvet life,

one he coveted and deserved.

II.

Barn Cats…too many to list by name.

There must have been at least 20

roaming the grounds of the old farmhouse

we rented during the transition year.

Most were shy, but I made a few friends.

The mamas taught me how to protect the vulnerable–

grab them by the scruff of their necks

and carry their protesting bodies to safety.

A lesson I tried to put to practice

without much success.

III

Misty, a gray long-hair with lunar eyes

arrived in the city with me 

via my grandfather’s dairy farm.

Not granted indoor status 

because of his dandar and feral nature 

we bonded over

porch cuddles and cat toy games.

A tragic hit and run took his life prematurely.

My first experience with loss and death.

IV.

Next came Evenrude. 

A little calico with a purr as loud as a motorboat.

Neither he nor his brother lasted long.

His brother suffered a fatal Boston terrier attack

and Evenrude disappeared during a winter storm,

his partially frozen body discovered later that spring 

protruding from a melting snowbank.

Despite the pattern of suffering,

I begged my parents for another cat.

V. 

Ginger arrived in 5th grade. 

(He was with me for such a short period of time,

I don’t remember his proper name.)

The sweet feline greeted me after school,

rubbing against my leg and humming frisky purrs.

One morning before school,

I discovered Ginger next to his food bowl in our shed,

stiff as a wood plank and very dead.

That is how I learned about rigor mortis.

VI.

A break in the cat curse arrived in the form of

a fancy, long-haired white cat named Kitty. 

His superpower,

one blue eye and one green eye,

granted him nine lives instead of one.

He was smart and cool, 

and he lived with us for 16 years. 

Maybe my parents feared

longterm trauma 

from so many cat deaths, 

but for whatever reason,

Kitty was invited to sleep in our basement

each night, 

eventually securing

fulltime indoor residency.

22 White Cat Breeds: Complete List with Info & Pictures | Pet Keen

My Life in Cat Years (Parts 7-9) to be continued in tomorrow’s post.

Developing Engaged Readers Begins with Trust

740 Creatures great and small ♡ ideas | animals beautiful, cute animals,  animals

I teach a twitchy little Bunny, wide-eyed and suspicious. She hid in her rabbit hole for most of the year until two weeks ago when the field turned forsythia and daffodil yellow. Cautiously, she emerged from her burrow, pausing to listen and sniff the air between each short hop sequence across the schoolyard and into Beatrix Potter Middle School. 

When Bunny arrived to English class, she hippy-hopped straight to her assigned desk where she sat frozen except for the occasional tremors that rippled down her backside. She never made direct eye contact with her classmates or me during that initial lesson.

Finally, it was independent reading time, but Bunny remained still with no book on her desk. She initially turned down my book suggestions, staring straight ahead, continuing to avoid eye contact. After many probing questions on my part, she eventually admitted that she didn’t like to read books, especially long books.

“I’m easily distracted by movement,” she explained in a quick, whisper-voice, her nose twitching. “If predators are near, I have to be ready to flee.”

“I get it,” I responded sympathetically. “Have you considered reading short stories?”

A few minutes later I placed a stack of short story anthologies on her desk. Ironically, she extended her paw to pull the horror-themed short story collection toward her and began to read Out to Get You, 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe. At the end of class she hurriedly placed the book in her knapsack and hopped out as quickly as she had entered.

The next day, Bunny’s hopping pace appeared more relaxed, and while she didn’t greet me at the door, she did make eye contact as she passed. When it was time for independent reading, I asked her how the scary stories landed, and she said she had enjoyed a few tales but was ready to move on to another book.

Hmm.

“Do you read graphic novels?”

“Yes,” she replied with a quick twitch.

Bunny followed me over to our graphic novel collection and we talked about books she had read and liked in elementary and middle school. I introduced her to a few new authors and titles based on her past favorites. 

She left day two with two graphic novels, Anaya’s Ghost and Be Prepared

Today, day three, Bunny greeted me with a hello as she hip-hopped over to her desk. Her ears and shoulder blades relaxed a little. At the start of our reading time, she  called me over to her desk to announce she had finished both graphic novels overnight! 

“Fantastic! Let’s get you more.”

She selected Brave, written by one of her favorite graphic novelists, and one of my recommendations, Heartstopper, a new graphic novel that no one in class had read.

Less than two hours later, that little Bunny hopped back into my room all animated, all bright-eyed, all wiggly-back, asking for the sequel to Heartstopper.  

“It ended on a cliff hanger and I really want to read the next book! It was so good!” she exclaimed with a twinkle in her eye.

“You finished Heartsopper before you even left school? That is amazing! And also suggests to me that it is a really good book other students may love.”

Sadly, I told her that I didn’t own the sequel, but that I would look into securing a copy. Bunny asked if she could hold on to the book because she wanted her best bunny friend to read it. 

“Of course! But will you do me a favor?” I asked as I placed a blank sticky note inside the front cover of Heartstopper.

“What?” she asked cautiously.

“Will you write a short review, recommending this book to other students?”

“Sure!” she agreed, slightly surprised by the request. 

And with that she returned the book to her knapsack and hopped out of my classroom, but not before giving a slight wave of her paw and an I’ll-see-you-tomorrow tilt of her head.

The Book Buzz is Back!

The best part about being back in school is the 20 minutes of sacred  independent reading time.  When students come into class, either virtually or in person, they are expected to settle into reading. Pre-Covid, students would be scattered about the room, some at desks, some sprawled on the floor and pillows, others tucked into little crevices in the room, reading. Now students must remain at their desks lined in neat rows, spaced six-feet apart. I am pleasantly surprised by how easily students have settled into this new routine. 

By the time the bell chimes, books are open, and students are reading, browsing the bookshelves or requesting a curated book pile. This twenty minutes offers me time to work with a few students who are looking for new books.

Book buzz is beginning to infiltrate the classroom. 

One student, who has not read anything this year and probably didn’t read a single book last year, said she likes books with intense subject matter.  I gave her a pile of books with edgy plots that would hook her immediately. She ended up selecting the only memoir in the stack, A Child Called It, an intense true story about surviving an abusive mother.

Another student, who is a voracious reader,  asked if she could take several books home over spring break. YES! I encouraged her to take home as many books as she could fit into her backpack–she left with five novels..  

One boy in my 6th period recently checked-out and finished Flamer. Today, he quietly recommended it to his friend, also in the class. The friend raised his hand to ask if he could check-out Flamer? YES!

Finally, a student who struggles to find engaging books, selected Female of the Species from the pile I book-talked at her desk. The heart-pounding novel  is driven by a strong female character who seeks revenge for the murder of her sister.  “I’m only a few pages in, but I like how this author writes,” YES!

There isn’t much I love about teaching in this new concurrent environment, but connecting kids to books and watching them fall in love with reading again is the gift I’ll hold onto until June.

Doctor’s Orders

Enjoy Flowering Pear Trees From Afar - Carol J. Michel

I went to see the doctor today.

Since March 20

I have been experiencing 

some rather alarming symptoms:

I’m running warm all over.

My fleece jacket lies crumpled

 on the floor near my bed.

Squirrel chatter and birdsongs

are more amplified.

My concentration, uneven

There is a tickle in my nose,

and I think my heart rate has dropped

a few beats per minute.

“You’ll be just fine,” the doctor reassured me.

“It’s just a case of spring fever.

Nothing to worry about.”

“Most likely,” she said, 

“the spring equinox

triggered the reaction.”

The doctor recommended I take a few days off 

from work until the most severe symptoms pass,

then handed me a prescription.

Add one hour of novel reading, twice a day.

Take a leisurely stroll before lunch and bedtime.

Wash it all down with freshly squeezed lemonade 

or homemade iced tea.

Then follow up with family and friends as needed.

Outside, I walk beneath

a canopy of pear trees in full bloom,

their scent  as sweet 

as my relief.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, A

Today’s post is modeled after Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.

A

AIRPLANES

Miracles in the sky. It doesn’t matter how many times my aerospace engineer husband explains the physics of flying, I know it takes divine intervention to lift those beasts into the air.

ALIGNMENT

I love balance and symmetry. When text, a wall hanging, a pant leg is misaligned, I experience an unyielding urge to fix the positioning. See ANXIETY

ANTS

When I was little, I would spend countless summer afternoons studying the large black ants that built deluxe condo units at the base of a very large oak tree. I was especially intrigued by their busyness, which included carrying grain after grain of sand out of their underground network of tunnels to locations far from their property. They would travel to and from their destinations along ant highways, never stopping to catch their breath or visit with a long lost ant friend.

ANXIETY, Things that make me anxious.

  • Technology problems that pop up when I’m about to present
  • Driving during a snowstorm
  • Not being prepared 
  • People watching me make decisions, like when I write or when I pick out an outfit
  • Misalignment 

APPLE

The perfect fruit. Add some peanut butter and you have a complete meal.

My Mother Taught Me

My mother taught me

reading is a kind of work

every paragraph

merits exertion.

“Absorb books-

difficult books.”

“Bring trouble.

Read ahead.”

“Speak, act, teach.”

Determined,

I navigated

the untable path,

knowing more

than people want to see.

Isolation Journal Prompt #142: Select a text to erase. Study the page, and see what rises up.

(Thanks to “A Reading Life” and all of the other slicers who modeled this form.)

Original Text from Lab Girl, Hope Jahren (16)

My mother taught me that reading is a kind of work, and that every paragraph merits exertion, and in this way, I learned how to absorb difficult books. Soon after I went to kindergarten, however, I learned that reading difficult books also brings trouble. I was punished for reading ahead of the class, for being unwilling to speak and act “nicely.” I didn’t know why I simultaneously feared and adored my female teachers, but I did know that I needed their attention, positive or negative, at all times.Tiny but determined, I navigated the confusing and unstable path of being what you are while knowing that it’s more than people want to see.”

Sea of Brown

My dad in our family kitchen, circa 1970s

Brown seeps from the surfaces 

of my childhood home,

bleeding into the trim, 

the cabinets, the countertops.

My parents built a sepia-toned life 

for my sister and me.

One that was warm and sturdy,

independent and bold. 

Growing up in a nut-brown house

meant fits of giggles, storytime and chores.

It meant family dinners at five

and baths at eight.

The wood grains

and rich textures 

of walnut,

mahogany,

and honey-love

dripped down our walls 

and stitched flowers into fabric

There we settled into

a happy monochrome life.

Safe from predators.

Camouflaged in a sea of brown.