Deja Vu All Over Again

Just as John Fogerty so famously sang, this summer’s movie reel is a continuous replay of events from nearly twenty years ago. Again and again I’ve been struck by the similarities. Indeed, there are even close parallels to childhood and teenage summers gone by. But almost two decades ago, I was adapting to a new life in a strange place, juggling a giant garden and a gaggle of pets, with no idea where this was all headed.

Three years later I was headed back to the suburbs, with a newly diagnosed autoimmune disease and a sense of defeat. Nice try, I thought, too bad my attempts always end in failure. All for nothing. Flash forward to 2018 and like so many of my random life experiences that held no rhyme or reason, suddenly that brief foray into organic gardening and sustainable living provided the foundation for me to start a new garden with support from fellow gardeners in the community I now call home.

Based on the wisdom and guidance of those who have lived and loved this farm and retreat center for many years, the 5,000 square foot vegetable garden that is part of the property’s centerpiece full of flowers, fruit, shrubs and trees, has produced over a hundred heads of lettuce, bushels of heirloom tomatoes, countless cucumbers and ridiculous amounts of squash.

And the community members have responded by creating beautiful and delicious dishes out of all the bounty in addition to produce for the retreat center. Whereas before I was alone in my endeavors trying to find ways to give away excess food, now I have a network and a sense of connection with my fellow villagers. Just the typical random morning chat in the gardens with coffee makes all the years of preparation for this cooperative garden effort worthwhile.

While in the garden at the beginning of June discussing lettuce with one of the chefs, the other deja vu element showed up in the form of a tiny kitten with blue eyes followed closely by a local vet who happened to be attending a retreat that day. “She’s a tortie, seven or eight weeks old,” the vet called out, “barely weaned. A baby.” The whole retreat group tried to catch her, to no avail. I was left waiting for my ride at the end of the evening, dead tired but unable to ignore the gut-wrenching mewing coming from the shrubbery.

Flashback to 2002, when my last cat landed on our doorstep in the country, full of fleas and desperate to live with us. And beyond that experience were the ancient memories of kittens abandoned in my parents’ farm fields, tiny cries for help from corn and bean rows that I would answer because I couldn’t ignore those sounds without my heart breaking into pieces.

Now I was closing in on two years since my last cat’s passing and vowed not to get too attached. Certainly no kittens, I said, too much work. But once again I couldn’t ignore those desperate little cries, and I started meowing back. She came straight to me out of the bushes, dripping wet, and climbed right into my arms. Turns out she was a neighbor’s cat that crawled up under a car, took a little ride and tumbled out about a mile down the road. She suffered a scraped nose and lost one of her nine lives, but she managed to find me just when I needed her. I just didn’t know it yet.

So here I am at the end of July, with a lifetime of living accomplished in just a few short months, with a cat and a garden and too many vegetables. But also with a sense that all that’s come before has prepared me for what I need now, to start all over again.


I spent yesterday celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary with my amazing husband, almost 33 years since we first met. If you’d told me all those years ago that I would be married this long, I wouldn’t have believed you. My track record up to that point had been nothing short of disastrous. Nevertheless, we usually recognize the date simply, a day free of work and the usual chores, a quiet dinner out.

We always manage to note our nuptials in the nick of time, right before the looming national holiday, a boisterous and bombastic event that steamrolls over our quaint little memories of a small country wedding with only 25 guests. (And that count included my husband and me.) For Throwback Thursday on Facebook yesterday, I joked that the above photo could easily have been taken in 1925 instead of 1985 if it weren’t for the Instamatic camera with 110 film that my husband holds in his left hand.

This year another anniversary follows fast on the heels of firecracker festivals and sizzling backyard feasts. It’s a new one that I dread, and one that I will always remember because of its proximity to the Fourth. Funny, how I don’t often recall the death dates of dear, departed pets, but this one seems to be different. He was the last, at least for a while until we become settled again; and in my travels of late, he returns to me in the form of farm cats at the retreat center where I work, who snooze on the porch steps all afternoon, or find a warm lap in the cool dawn dew when one becomes available from a lawn chair.

Once a country cat, my old buddy would have loved this place, where his kind roam freely all day to catch mice and tease the birds, though still called in to safety every night away from coyotes and other creatures of the night who would do them harm.  When I first came, they ran from me and stared back at a respectful distance, but now we are on a first-name basis. They tell me all about their nine lives, and I tell them about my old friend, how he could hunt even without his front claws, how he loved to stay out all night and sack out all day in a corner on the floor, no soft bed needed.

But I keep to myself how he ended his days up in a third-floor apartment, with a cupful of grass instead of a whole backyard lush with the stuff, while birds taunted him through the glass door of a balcony the size of his litter box. We did what we could to make the transition easier for him, since another home in the country or even a new suburban yard were out of the question for us in this stage of our journey. A cowardly trip to the shelter was unimaginable. In the end, he was stuck in his geriatric ways enough to be dependent on the people who took him in all those years ago, for better or for worse.

At least on this Fourth of July, I take solace in knowing that he doesn’t have to endure the battle sounds of our country’s anniversary, unless he wants to.

When the Last Pet Leaves

The last picture of him.
The final picture of him.

We said goodbye to our cat this summer, the last of five pets who came with us when we moved from the country back to the suburbs 13 years ago. With his departure, our 30-year streak of caring for a dependent (pet and/or child) ended, as well. We are truly empty nesters now.

I won’t lie to you — it feels strange. I’m having a hard time adjusting. No more trips down the grocery pet aisle, no more lugging cat litter up two flights of stairs, no more fur in the dryer vent. Okay, maybe I don’t miss those. But on the other hand, I do miss his greeting at the door after a long trip, his purring for no particular reason, his warm body hogging most of our bed on cold winter nights.

This particular cat was MY cat, my familiar. In early years outside, he left me half-dead gifts by the backdoor; in later years indoors he brought me tiny trinkets carefully placed on the floor by my side of the bed — buttons, toe nail clippings and plastic bits, choking hazards that a lesser being would ingest and end up at the emergency clinic. But not him. He caught elusive flies and terrorized the house spiders, leaving their gigantic crumpled carcasses in full view as evidence of his love for me.

He was a sickly, flea-infested stray who showed up at our door 14 years ago, and pushed the limits of my husband’s patience when I called to tell him that “we had a situation” with a stray kitten. “You didn’t feed him, did you?” he asked warily. And of course I had.

I must admit, this was always the plan. Child off living her own life, pets gently ushered out. But the empty rooms devoid of hairy tumbleweeds seem sterile now, and the silence that greets me when I turn to say we’ll be back soon is hard to bear.

Life goes on, however. Every day I notice more spiders moving in, rejoicing in corners free of feline tormentors, still alive.


Day 17: My Smile
Day 17: My Smile

Okay, I hate taking selfies. So here’s you-know-who with his perpetual dilemma: is he smiling, or not? There’s a thin line between crusty and cheerful. But I guess we’ll never know for sure.

I’ve decided to participate in Susannah Conway’s December Reflections  photo prompts again this year. During this hectic and stressful season, won’t you join me in mindful reflection from life’s photographic window seats and contemplative comments that provide refuge from the madness.

Wash Day


On my hands and knees
I scrub away your life
left in tile cracks and corners
of walls, the fine hairs
from countless days shed
waiting by our door
released in the snap of
doormat, the mop shaking
off memories from
fifteen years’ worth of
vigilance against life’s
marauders and circling
storms that dared threaten
your family, while carpet worn
into your shape testifies
to a loyalty that reaches far
beyond a dog’s age, for
when these windows crack
open to air out the void,
I feel you brush by, cleansed.
 *For the canine companion we lost last week.
NaPoWriMo #17
I’m writing a poem every day in April as part of NaPoWriMo’s celebration of National Poetry Month. We may be able to live without poetry, but who would want to?

Eye of the Cat

I do believe we’ve known each other in past lives, nine at least. Something about that gleam of recognition, the cry for home from rescues wandering in childhood’s corn fields, lonely strays found waiting at the door or languishing inside cardboard boxes offered by finders who don’t want to be keepers.

On a summer afternoon in this incarnation, he threw himself at my bare knees, and hung on for dear life. Covered in fleas, sick with virus, he had found me again.

I bring him back from the dead, only to save him over and over. There was the sinister piece of plastic stuck in his mouth, the suicidal leap onto a hot stove, the recovery of that giant hair ball after hundreds of dollars spent at the vet.

In exchange, he kills spiders in my dungeons, leaves me offerings by the backdoor, and brings the tiniest of lost treasures to lay at my feet. At night, he is the guardian of my dreams.

Off duty, he can be found basking in past glories on the living room ottoman, surveying our kingdom while he grooms his armaments for battle.

After ten years together, I know this to be true: Our union is inevitable as I gaze into the face of my familiar.

Nip it in the bud

I’ve seen those eyes before: in high school parking lots and open-air concerts, at parties your “mama told you not to come” to. He sits by the door waiting for another hit of aromatherapy.

I was smart this year and planted it in the front porch pot with the basil as olfactory camouflage. And that is the only reason his supply has lasted this long.

Let’s face it — dude is an addict. He doesn’t even roll in it anymore, just swallows the entire leaf like it’s his last day on earth.

Which it might be if he doesn’t shut up.

Most years I’ve tried to grow the stuff, he sniffs it out and mows down the whole crop like a kitty combine. Later, I’ll come upon yet another sad scene of destruction, plants inhaled down to broken stems, nothing left for a single, solitary . . . locust.

Oh, and he’s too good for store-bought bags. He turns up his little pink nose at the stuffed mice, herbal sachets and smell-enhanced teasers on a stick.

Only the real thing will do. Which is what I discovered this summer growing as a healthy volunteer in my flower bed, hidden in the weeds. Just to be sure, I pulled off a leaf and passed a sample under my sleeping tiger’s snout, causing a miraculous resurrection.

Next thing I know, he’s racing around the house high on life, munching at the food bowl, crazy as a — cat.

So yeah. This explains the all-night howl jams at our house.

He knows he’s busted.

Photo Friday: The Last Peep Show

or The Sad Tale of Eggbert

Is it just me, or do marshmallow peeps taste different these days?

Back in the ’60s I went to a classmate’s Easter party and came home with some live peeps as fun favors. Yep, at the end of the festivities each child was given a little bag with two baby chicks inside, fuzzy and yellow as tennis balls.

I lived on a farm, so it wasn’t terribly inconvenient to bring home real poultry, but I often wonder what the suburban kids did when they showed up at their ranch houses with cheeping party prizes.

Anyway, there appeared to be a male and female, so we named them Eggbert and Henrietta, and kept them warm inside a cardboard box in the kitchen with a window screen on top to keep them safe.

One day we came in the kitchen to check on the chicks and found the screen pushed aside. Henrietta was missing.

I swear, our dog, who had been hanging around the kitchen quite a bit, had a smile on his face.

That left Eggbert, who grew into an increasingly leggy and awkward youth. He was obviously a rooster, and spent a good deal of adolescence practicing his frustrated mating call in our barn. All for naught, as we had no hen house, and (with the loss of Henrietta) no flock.

He was also terrorized by my brother and me into being our bird pet. We dressed him up, built elaborate homes (cages) for him, and wandered around the farm with the unfortunate fowl tucked under our arms.

Contrary to my mother’s dire predictions, he never pecked our eyes out (although we deserved it).

He hated my mother with such passion that he often chased her across the barnyard, and hopped on the car where she had taken refuge, pecking viciously at the windshield while she drove off, wipers flapping in defense.

Taking his cock of the walk status seriously, he used the bank barn’s entrance ramp like a runway, silently stampeding down from the gaping barn doorway like some feathered superhero, wings held out, twitching and stomping in an elaborate dance meant to scare his nemesis witless before launching himself onto the leg of an adversary.

His victims were many, including relatives, long-lost friends, handymen and the president of the bank where my parents were applying for a business loan.

Eggbert didn’t like surprise visitors.

This went on for months, until one day my brother and I couldn’t find Eggbert anywhere. The barn loft was silent, the doorway empty, and my mother no longer had to run for her car, after checking to see if the coast was clear.

My parents finally gently suggested that ol’ Eggbert wasn’t coming back. Probably caught by a fox.

Sadly we put away the adornments (rags) we had made for Eggbert, and took apart the homes we designed for his unwilling occupancy.

Years later, my folks admitted that after multiple attacks on friend and foe alike, not to mention the ungodly racket of his crowing attempts, they gave Eggbert to the neighbor for his stew pot.

The old farmer reported it was the toughest bird he’d ever eaten.

Kinda like peeps.

A Minimalist Moment: Traveling Light

One of the big advantages to a minimal life is easy prep for travel. It seems like I used to take years to get ready to go on vacation. Of course, family pet attrition has been a big factor. I used to dread dragging out the feeders and water dispensers, fortifying the litter boxes, writing instructions to the cat sitter, wrapping the house in plastic, and taking out all the batteries in the smoke alarms–oh, yes. One trip we pulled in the driveway only to hear a piercing wail from a defective alarm entertaining all the cats inside. No telling how long it had been going off. I don’t think they were ever the same after that.

Life is simple now: one dog off to the kennel, one cat who is mostly trustworthy and can only fight with himself, and one piece of luggage.


Yep, size depending on length of excursion. Okay, I cheat a little sometimes by fitting bulky shoes in a grocery bag along with the hats and rain gear. But the limited space is a worthy challenge for me. I long ago realized that I have a tendency to over-pack and never wear half of my items. The unnecessary stuff would come home clean but wrinkled.

Over the years I have gradually weaned myself from the fully equipped set of luggage that I presumed every gal-about-town and savvy seasoned traveler needed to conquer the world. I went from an overnight bag, carry-on and large check-in suitcase to just the overnight and carry-on, to just the carry-on and a backpack for my 10 days in Europe, to just the carry-on for most trips or a messenger bag for weekends.

Then there is the easing of my obsessive compulsive crucial 15 minutes of take-off on a trip. I learned a little too well from my OCD mother who would sit in the car in rigid concentration, silently running through her mental checklist of unattended disasters waiting to happen. This is after she ran in to check the stove 43 times and re-locked in proper sequence the series of deadbolts on the backdoor to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.

If you would challenge her on this behavior, she always cited the time when my brother DID actually leave the water running in the cow trough when we were already 500 miles away and the neighbor had to go shut it off—catastrophic tsunami narrowly averted.

This is part of the reason why my parents do not travel—not to mention the hassle of dragging out all those feeders and waterers for the livestock.

I, on the other hand, have forced myself to only check the stove about 27 times, and assure myself roughly 6 times that the toilet isn’t running before I go. After my fifteen minutes and my husband flooring the accelerator for a fast exit, I figure there’s nothing I can do about it, and go through my zen travel stage of acceptance. What happens, happens.

Welcome, my friends, to the joys of traveling light. It’s getting better all the time, as the Beatles would say.


Is the cat still in the closet?

Want More? Check out my other Minimalist Moments:

Organization — Do You Need It?

Hobbling the Hobbies

Out of the Closet