Just Wondering…

Can someone reconnect with a friend whom they met in the sixth grade, exchanged letters for a few years, but hasn’t communicated with in over 40 years?

I’m going to try.

Over Thanksgiving, tales of my adventures with my best friend from sixth grade were told and retold. She and I shared some wonderful times exchanging secrets, torturing siblings and attempting to build tree houses. We also went to movies, played barbies and spent hours ice skating under the guise of looking for cute boys.

Our conversation at Thanksgiving prompted my dad to contact an acquaintance who might know Lynn’s dad, a conversation that led to my receiving an email with the contact information for my best friend.

In a newspaper article, celebrating the 90th birthday of her dad – she was mentioned within the context of her married name. From there it wasn’t all that difficult to find the contact information for her husband. Thus the email I received, which included a not so subtle nudge from my dad to find a way to reach out to her via the contact info he found.

This past weekend, I unearthed my one and only Scrapbook and memories of the past rolled down my face and at the same time, filled me with joy. There, within the yellowed pages and still bound to the pages by yellow, brittle scotch tape, were letters from Lynn – my best friend at the time, a person I’ve never forgotten and always have held dear.

What to do?

Here I was with a boatload of memories from my scrapbook and the contact information for an Orthopedic Dr. in Rapid City, South Dakota, the name of the man she is married to.

Is it her? I can’t be sure, but it seems like a reliable trail of clues. I felt more than a bit of angst over calling or emailing the office to make a connection with her. These days, I’m certain I would have been written off as a total weirdo.

So, instead – at my mom’s suggestion, I found her home address through a Google Search. I know, that sounds a little creepy as well – but, honestly, the internet is cool when used in the right ways.

I’ve composed a letter, and am sending her a copy of one of her correspondences to me – we’ll see where this goes.

I hope we reconnect.

More to come…

Sixth grade memories

So many memories flying around in my head right now.

We’ve Reached a Fork in the Road, or have we?

My parents and I were talking tonight about things related to business dealings, politics and life in general.

The phrase, “we’ve reached a fork in the road” came up, it was followed by “it’s time to make a decision.” This doesn’t just imply it’s time to make a choice, it explicitly states there is only one next step. There is one way or another, nothing in between. I honestly don’t think that’s what either person means. But, it’s how it can be and probably is most often interpreted.

As we were talking, I had two images flash through my brain. One was of an actual fork – one we use to eat with. The other was of a fork in a road. The difference between them struck me immediately. I know this is strange, but it’s how my brain works.

As we picture a fork in the road – there are only two choices, you go left, or you go right. Those are the only options. Perhaps we limit ourselves.

Oddly enough, the fork we use in everyday life, as a utensil to consume food, has three prongs. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to pick up a piece of meat or a potato wedge with a physical fork that only had two prongs? Especially if they were pointing in opposite directions…

It made me think – perhaps, the third prong, the middle road so to speak, represents the opportunity for a “win, win” approach to life.

We seem to be faced with so many it has to be ‘this way’ or ‘that way’ choices these days.

Perhaps it’s time we started to look at the “fork in the road” in a new way and find common ground. It’s time to carve a new path – it’s in between the “fork in the road.”

Dear Betty Boop, Embrace What Life Offers in the Moment…

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” ~ Buddha Siddhartha Guatama Shakyamuni

I’ve heard the quote many times before but never knew who to credit – after much Googling, I’m still not sure if I have the right source, so we’ll call it good enough.
Regardless of whether or not I got the credit for the quote correct (which I hope I did), it’s a true statement and one that I’ve personally experienced, or maybe finally recognized, over the last decade.

It started with my first drawing class in Yardley, Pa.

When I say that I was nearly hyperventilating and on the verge of abandoning the class for the refuge of my car, I’m not exaggerating. The only thing that moved me forward was another student who caught up to me and cheerily said, “You must be here for the drawing class, I can’t wait! Let’s head in together.”

Gulp! This left me with little choice but to face my fears and perch myself on a stool in front of an intimidating blank canvas amongst people who knew each other but were strangers to me.

The subject for the first lesson was a sunflower, a large one from my perspective. I sat on my stool, overwhelmed, and a bit paralyzed. The sunflower we were supposed to draw looked impossibly intricate.

It didn’t help matters that the women around me already had petals flying out of their pencils onto the paper, and I was so hung up on how to draw a perfect circle that I couldn’t move on.

Anne, the instructor, walked up behind me, put her hand on the small of my back, and said, “Breathe, Beth, you’re in the right place. I know you are.”

As it turns out, I was. It took me weeks – but I eventually finished the sunflower.

029 final sunflower_white shading
I took several classes with Anne through the Artists of Yardley. In all that time I finished every drawing we started, but only one during the class. It was a pine cone, and the medium is charcoal.

pine cone_04_19_12
While I lived in Pennsylvania, I also had the privilege and opportunity to take drawing lessons from an accomplished artist at the Princeton Arts Council. I lived just across the river from New Jersey, so it was more than convenient.

I still remember the Thanksgiving in St. Louis when I decided to sign up for one of Konstantin’s classes. The class cost more than any class I had attended to date, which was part of what caused me to take pause. The more significant hesitation had to do with his profile. There was no doubt in my mind that he was a no-nonsense professional artist. I bit the bullet and hit submit.

He didn’t disappoint, he exceeded my expectations and made me think about art ways that had never occurred to me. I’ll always remember my first class with him.

He asked the class, “What is one of the most important things to know as an artist, as you sit down to create? Here’s a clue, if you took piano lessons and you had a good teacher, you learned this early on.”

There was silence as the students looked at each other and tried to come up with the right answer.

Unsure, but uncomfortable by the silence, I raised my hand and offered with some hesitation, “Proper fingering to form a chord or to play a scale?”

His somewhat clipped and heavily accented response was, “Good guess, but no. They teach you how to position yourself in front of the instrument and place your fingers properly on the keys so you can easily move from note to note. It’s no different with art, and that’s where we’re going to start.”

That’s when I first learned how to properly set up an easel and align myself with the subject when working from something real, not imagined for inspiration. I was hooked on his teaching style from the beginning.

He taught me to draw while he taught others to paint. His focus was on helping me learn and understand the fundamental elements – and also to loosen up. His painting classes were always full, but the drawing classes, for whatever reason – not so much.

I hadn’t thought about it before now, but I realize now he went out of his way to offer me a venue in which to learn. It had to be tough to have patience with a student who is afraid to draw a circle and at the same time, coach a student with years of experience. He did so with aplomb.

I laugh with fondness when I recall him walking up behind me when I was clearly frozen in a state of perfectionism. He’d say to me, “Betty Boop, you’re creatively constipated again. Loosen up.”

He was a teacher one either loved or not. For whatever reason Betty Boop was and still is his nickname for me, I sort of love it!

Fast forward a few years, and two cross country moves that landed me inexplicably in Upstate NY, and enter stage left, my piano teacher. It wasn’t easy to find him, and when I moved here, I had every intention of continuing my exploration of visual art and had no plan to rediscover music.

As life often happens, things unfold differently than we imagine they will.

Having my piano tuned for the first time in over a decade triggered an unexpected flurry of Google searches for a piano teacher. I found one that was willing to teach an adult was within a reasonable driving distance and sounded like he had a fun approach to teaching. I’ve been taking lessons now for a little over seven months, and all I can say is “wow.” It’s been amazing and continues to be so – I’m now thinking about music in a whole different way.

I’ve kept in touch with Konstantin over the years, and on a whim, I sent him an email about a week ago.

Subject line: Greetings from Betty Boop

Hello Konstantin,

It’s been a very long time since I’ve touched base with you. Thought I’d send you a hello.

I hope all things are well in your world. Things are good, but a bit strange in my world – as per usual. 🙂

I may have mentioned that I moved to Syracuse, NY – it’s been quite a change in many, many ways. It’s hard to believe I’ve lived here for almost a year…

I won’t bore you with aspects of my professional life – let’s just leave it at, I made the right decision to move to Omaha and from there to NY. But this will most certainly not be my last move. I’m starting to feel like a nomad. LOL

Creatively speaking, my move here has caused a gap when it comes to writing and visual art. In Omaha, I was on fire with experimenting with visual art. In Pennsylvania, I was on fire with writing and exploring visual art.

Here, those two aspects have been lacking. However, I found the most fantastic piano teacher, and he’s helping me learn to play the piano in ways I never dreamed of. I doubt I ever shared this, but I took piano lessons from third grade through twelfth and for a few years again as an adult in the early 2000’s. Before I started my crazy cross-country moving trek. I was actually reasonably accomplished in classical music.

My current lessons are stretching me in so many ways, it’s almost impossible to describe – but it’s incredible.

I did participate in #inktober, so, in a small way, I have started to revisit visual art expression. My new place just doesn’t have a space that’s conducive to doing much more than small scale drawings – ink, pencil, and small canvases are currently my options.

Visual art teachers here are non-existent. I genuinely miss the Princeton Arts Council and the classes I was able to take there. In particular, I miss learning from you.

Anyhoo…

Just thought I’d say hidy ho and send greetings from Betty Boop to you.

A few nights later, I sent my piano teacher an email, I wanted to try and express how his teachings are changing my perspective about music.

Subject line: More than Music Lessons

Some thoughts are in my heart and mind that I wanted to share.

Until meeting you, I didn’t understand or appreciate the role of an accompanist.

I had no idea what to expect at my first lesson with you, but I knew I didn’t want to regroup on learning classical. It served me well, but for me, it was time to have fun with music.

You immediately seemed to get it.

Although, at first, to be honest, I sort of thought you were a bit bonkers for teaching me to play songs from music with a single note melody line- aka fake music. But, I quickly got it, loved it, and felt challenged.

Then, you started taking me on the path of learning how to chord on the piano in a way that would support a vocalist and/or other musicians.

I couldn’t stop thinking, I can’t do this.

But you challenge me, teach me and encourage me in a great way, and I am loving the progress I’ve made. It’s beginning to click.

You’ve turned music on its head for me. That’s a good thing.

Now, every time I listen to a song, I gain a new appreciation for the accompanist, who helps bring a song to life.

I also feel like I’m making good progress in my own way.

I came across this tonight and wanted to share it. (You’ve got a friend, link was inserted here – I’ll put it at the end of my post. 🙂 )

Carol King is one of my favorite artists, and in d for me, this brought home the music lessons I’m learning from you.

The most amazing and extraordinary thing happened, on the same day – they both responded.

There were many words of wisdom, support and encouragement in both replies. It truly made my heart smile.

I also laughed out loud at Konstantin’s quirky, humorous comment. For a bit of context, refer back to my message, in which I mentioned to him that my piano lessons are stretching me.

In true Konstatin humor, he replied, “please, be very careful with the stretching exercises (of the direct, not figurative variety), while keeping in mind the grave price Robert Schumann paid. After all, you do need your hands and fingers for drawing and painting, as well. No need to sacrifice yourself to one muse only! 🙂”

I had to Google what happened to Robert Shuman, suffice it to say, he damaged his hands in an attempt to stretch and strengthen his fingers – which of course, is something Konstantin would know!

I took comfort in both messages, which coincidentally – or not, sent two important lessons. Konstantin summed it up this way, “Take full advantage of whatever Life is offering you at THIS moment -lemons or piano lessons, and make full use of it.”

Mark, my piano teacher, offered this thought among many others, “So the journey is long but so FUN!”

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear…

Embrace What Life Offers in the Moment…

As promised, here’s the link.
Carol King is one of my favorite artists, and for me, this brings home the music lessons I’m learning right now.

Lessons in Leadership

It’s odd, but true that one of my most profound learning experiences as a leader has also been one of my best-kept secrets. It’s an experience that caused me so much shame and embarrassment that I haven’t shared it with many people – in fact, I just recently shared it with my parents more than 20 years after it happened.

As a young supervisor, I entered my new role with unearned confidence after having been the President of the University Program Council at my college, coupled with many summers of managing lifeguards at a local country club and a short stint in retail.

Little did I know what the business world expected and would require from me.

I entered the “real” work world as the supervisor of a small call-center for a printing company. Don’t even get me started on the ridiculous interviewing tactics of my then manager. They included describing the dimensions of block of wood, which was somehow supposed to relate to printing – I actually never understood the connection.

Anyway, fast forward to my role as the Customer Service Supervisor (yes I was hired).

I thought I was doing a fantastic job. After all, “everyone “loved me.”

Turns out, it was time for a significant course correction.

The company (ahead of its time) conducted an employee satisfaction survey, “guaranteed to be anonymous.” The survey included the opportunity to give direct feedback about your supervisor, and honesty was encouraged.

The survey was sent, the results were received and the feedback sessions were scheduled.

I’m reasonably sure my feedback session was the first. It was awful, no, let’s make that horrible. Not only was the feedback hard to hear – the setting was worse.

Imagine sitting in a conference room surrounded by your direct reports, the V.P. of HR (aka the daughter of the owner of the company, in this case) and your nemesis. In other words, I was sitting at a table with the people who had been asked to provide “anonymous” feedback about my performance as their supervisor.

It also included the woman who had been hired to be promoted into the position I wholeheartedly and mistakenly believed should have been mine. Could there be a more uncomfortable setting? I think not – it was beyond awkward for everyone.

Long story short, and I’ll get to the point. The feedback I received was painful to hear but honest and accurate.

The next morning, after a night of endless tears, I made myself get out of bed and go to work. Just as I got to my desk, the phone rang, the name and extension number on the display signaled it was John O’Brien, the president company. I froze, then shakily picked up the receiver and said, “This is Beth.”

He asked me to come to his office.

I was terrified of the outcome – sure I would be fired because I had received such a terrible review from the survey. But here’s how the conversation went.

“Beth, yesterday was a tough day for you. First and foremost, I want to apologize to you for how the feedback was delivered. That was not my intention, and unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job of setting up the right way to communicate the feedback. I own that, and you should have never received the feedback in a group setting, it should have been private.

Having said that, it happened. Tell me what you think about what was said and what you heard, separate from the way you received it.”

After a deep breath and through barely held back tears, I responded, “It was hard to hear, but it was accurate. I do try too hard to be liked instead of giving people honest feedback that might be difficult to hear but would help them grow. There were many things said that I need to improve on and change. The list is long.”

His reply as he handed me a tissue, “You have choices now, Beth. What are you going to do?”

“John, it’s embarrassing to admit, but what they said was right, and like I said, it was hard to hear, but it’s obvious I need to make some changes.  I’ll need help along the way, but I want to make this work.”

“You have great potential, I knew you’d make the right choice, and I’ll help you in every way I can. We both learned valuable lessons yesterday and today. Let’s put this  experience behind us, but learn from it.”

Looking back, the choice seemed rather obvious to me at the time, purely from an “I need to keep my job” perspective. But as it turns out, this was one of, if not the biggest and best lessons in leadership I have ever learned.

The lesson was painful but straightforward. People look to a leader to help them grow, not to be a friend. It’s essential to believe in people and to take a personal interest in their lives and in their success, but boundaries are important and necessary. Being a leader is important and bears responsibility. As a mother, I often-times liken it to parenthood.

We want the best for our kids, we are stewards of their lives – after all, we brought them into the world. While we didn’t bring the people we work with into the world, we spend more time with them than we do our own children when it’s all said and done. So, as leaders, and we all are in one way or another, we have the responsibility and the privilege to care for the people we interact with. Especially if we are in a leadership role.

The people we work with rely on us to show both honesty and compassion in our relationships with them. What they may or may not understand is that it’s not always easy. I’d never thought about it before, but I now realize that John O’Brien probably dreaded the conversation with me, maybe nearly as much as I dreaded facing him.

In the end, he owned his part in the debacle but didn’t let me lose sight of the leadership lesson I needed to learn. John O’Brien was someone who owned his mistakes, made the needs of his employees a priority and helped people develop. In other words, he was a servant leader long before it was a corporate buzz word.

While the experience was undoubtedly the most humiliating one of my professional career, it was also the most important one. Because of it, I learned what it means to be a leader and it changed the course of my career for the better.

Recently I attended a leadership workshop, which brought the experience full circle. It involved a “360 review.” This basically means questions are sent to your manager, peers and direct reports requesting feedback on your effectiveness as a leader.

I’ll leave it at this, John would be proud of the leader I’ve become.

The Garage… the most versatile room in a house??

When I was looking for a place to live in Upstate, NY, one of the most important criteria was a garage. Ideally, an attached garage with snow removal as part of the deal. I was lucky enough to find a townhome community that met these requirements.

I’d spent the previous ten winters shoveling, brushing and scraping my car out of mounds of snow. So, as you might imagine, a garage was a must when I moved to a place that gets an average of 104 inches of snow each year.

There’s a trend among people who have moved into the community over the past year; it baffles me. More than half of the residents who have moved in do not use the garage for their car(s). Walking through the neighborhood reveals the various uses for a garage; they include storage, a “man cave,” T.V. and all, a game room, and oddly enough, mostly empty, but the car is still parked in the driveway. I especially can’t quite figure that last one out.

After a decade of digging out of boxes from one move to another as well as more hours than I’d like to have spent digging my car out after a snowstorm,  I’ve become a firm believer in using a garage for it’s intended purpose, to store a car and a bike. 🙂

 

It’s not mine to reconcile…

I Share My Thoughts with Love

A few nights ago, I had a conversation that made me think a lot about divorce and its effect on family relationships. It was a tough and teary talk with one of my kids; it was also very good – we talked about some pretty heavy “stuff.” I absolutely can’t and won’t share the details.

What I can, and will say is that divorce is tough on kids – no matter how old they are. The healing process takes time and sometimes lingers too long. From my point of view, this largely depends on how each parent handles it.

Just like any wound, the deeper the cut, the longer it takes to heal and the process hinges on how well the wound is cared for. In a divorce, a child’s healing is highly dependent on the actions of their parents.

Each person in the relationship has to own their actions and contributions to the breakdown of the marriage – it can’t be a blame game. Each parent has the opportunity, responsibility and privilege of continuing to nurture and develop a meaningful and positive relationship with their children.

I’m not a poet, but here are my thoughts after the conversation and listening to, and feeling the pain my child was experiencing as though it was my own.

I cannot fix it.
It’s not mine to fix.

I cannot resolve it.
It’s not my dispute.

I cannot heal it.
It’s not my wound.

I cannot forget it.
It’s my child that hurts.

It’s not mine to reconcile.
But I can listen and I can love.

I am here to
   love them 
  support them
  cry with them
  be angry with them
  laugh with them
  hold them close

We have a bond, my children and me.

We’ve made it through dark storms and into bright skies.

Sometimes grey clouds still cast a shadow over our light, but they won’t and don’t prevail.

We have a special bond, my children and me.

First Kisses…

I’m thinking that everyone remembers their first kiss. I’d also be willing to go out on a limb and speculate that most of those first kisses were awkward rather than breathtaking…

Just guessing.

It’s awkward, that first kiss – sometimes it comes when you least expect it, like at a cast party after a middle school play and you have no idea what do to when lips meet lips and you still have a Frito chip dissolving on your tongue.

How does one prepare for that?

During play rehearsals, we were carefully coached on the art of “fake” kissing on stage. It was a unique approach, not sure if it was widely taught or just local.

It involved very carefully placed stage movements and hand over mouth placements to keep the hand to hand meeting appear to be between lips and not between hands clasped over lips. I have no idea if it actually worked or if the audience just chuckled.

Although my role in the play involved no “kissing” roles, the star of the play – I still remember his name, kissed me at the cast party. Well, it wasn’t that great – there was the Frito in my mouth and I wasn’t expecting an actual kiss. Let’s just say it was awkward.

Dating again, as a “person of a certain age,” has introduced a whole new round of first kisses. It’s no less awkward the second time around. At least I know more than I did when I was 14. Just saying…

Do I Text Him, or not?

After being divorced for several years, I finally took the plunge and entered the world of online dating. Although I didn’t necessarily need my kids’ advice to avoid ‘free’ dating services, I followed it.

So far, it’s been an interesting experience.

My first ‘real’ date after over 30 years was nothing short of a disaster. Thank goodness it took place in the light of day and at a place that didn’t serve alcohol! The man was handsy, in a cafe over lunch and tea of all things! He was also rude, profane and thinks he’s ‘amazing’ at everything he does, just ask him…

He may be 12 years older than me, but clearly, he hasn’t figured out how to be a grown-up, with respect for others. Aside from his stream of derogatory comments, the most egregious and offending act during ‘date,’ was when he reached across the table and poked me in the stomach – for real.

This was after I had quite literally shrunk my body into as a compact space as it possibly could be during one of the longest 90 minutes of my life. Attempting to remove any part of my body within touching range, I squeezed my elbows between the armrests and tucked my feet under the seat. I even went as far as to hold my cup of iced tea over my stomach, a decision that turned out to be somewhat ill-fated.

It was hot and humid, especially so for Liverpool, NY.  Unfortunately, a drop of water slipped off of the cup and onto my dress. The fabric and color of the dress made the water drop visible until it dried.

I’m guessing you can already figure out where this went, or maybe not. This man, who proclaimed himself to be a gentleman in his profile – and oh, by the way, initially sent me a very nice message, reached across the table and stuck the tip of his finger into the spot where the water drop had left its temporary mark.

Who does that?! I can’t help but wonder if he has a ghost-writer who sends messages that mask his personality as a way to fool women into meeting him.

Date number two was more successful on the surface, but not in reality. Long story short, we had two in-person dates – which honestly were enjoyable. I had some hope that the encounter might at least lead to a friendship. However, I learned that we have very different values when it comes to the rights of LGBTQ and people of color. Let’s just say there wasn’t a third date, and his number is no longer stored as a contact.

Tee up bachelor number three.

He’s a pilot and has more than a somewhat erratic schedule. We met two Saturday’s ago and shared an enjoyable conversation over a cup of iced tea followed by a brisk walk along the lakeshore. We met at the same place as the unfortunate encounter with bachelor number one. Thankfully, this time, there was no inappropriate touching or boisterous self-promoting, just the awkwardness that comes along with a first date. In fact, it was quite pleasant.

Fast forward to the following week, he said he’d reach out to me on Sunday, I didn’t hear from him until Monday. Not a big deal, he had a good reason. We exchanged a couple of messages, and in the end, I thought we had made arrangements to meet for dinner the following Friday evening.

The only problem was, we had agreed on a place to meet but not a time. Friday afternoon, I checked my phone repeatedly for a reply to my text from the day before and confirmation of the time. Every time I checked my message still appeared to be unread and was definitely unanswered.

Being unsure about dating protocol as a woman of a certain age, and after two awful experiences, I checked in with a handful of friends. “Do I text him, or not?” There was a 50/50 split between two sentiments, “Give him the benefit of the doubt and text him back” and “The guy must be rude, don’t waste your time.”

I was 100% leaning toward writing the whole thing off when my phone buzzed. At 5:45 pm, the screen lit up with a confirmation of the time and an apology.

“I’m so sorry! I just realized that we hadn’t actually confirmed a time. Can you meet at 6?” Without much of a pause, and a bit to my surprise, I replied: “Can we make it 6:30? I just got home from work and am a good 25 minutes away from the restaurant.”

We exchanged a few more logistics-related messages, including the fact that the restaurant does not have a parking lot and parallel parking was going to be both necessary and a problem You see, I don’t, well can’t, parallel park to save my soul. I would rather walk a mile from a spot that’s easy to maneuver my car into than attempt to back into a spot between two other vehicles.

I shared my dilemma, and he volunteered to park my car for me and to teach me how to parallel park. I readily accepted his first offer, we’ll see about the second.

He held an outdoor table for us from 5:45 until I arrived a little past the newly agreed upon time. Turns out, he was already at the restaurant when he realized that we hadn’t actually set a time to meet. I have to admit this made me smile.

Half-way through dinner, the sky started to show signs of opening up. It began as a slow drip, and by the time we dashed inside and snagged the one remaining table, the rain was pounding the pavement.

It was a ‘get to know you’ sort of dinner, enjoyable and much less awkward that our first date. The food was great, but the best part of the evening was the live music afterward.

Since he knew where my car was parked and because it was still raining, bachelor number three volunteered to fetch umbrellas from his car and mine before we walked to Funk ‘n Waffles, which believe it or not, is a trendy nightlife spot in downtown Syracuse. If the waffles are half as good as the music was, it’s a now on my list of favorite places!

The “Adam Ezra Group” was the featured, and only act. They only played for two hours, but it was worth the price of admission and then some. The quartet blended voice and instruments together in both lively and melancholy original folk songs. Their performance ranged from fast-paced fiddle playing by a woman whose beauty is ethereal to slow ballads sung acapella, in perfect four-part harmony.

My date and I sat side by side in alternating states of comfortable silence, enjoying the music, and periods of animated conversation in hushed voices so we wouldn’t interfere with anyone else’s enjoyment. He even asked me to dance, an invitation which I quickly accepted. It’s been ages since I’ve danced. Turns out, I haven’t forgotten how to move my feet in rhythm to the music.

The show ended with a band and listener sing-along. We joined the band members and the rest of the attendees on the small but adequate dance floor in front of the stage. Together we all sang along to “Let it Be.” I’m not sure how harmonious it actually was, in musical terms, but it was a beautiful moment in time and harmonious from the perspective of feeling connected with other people and part of a community.

To text or not to text, that was the question. In retrospect, I think I should have reached out. But I didn’t, and I’m glad he did – no matter what the outcome is, this night was an experience and created a memory I will treasure.

Do Cat’s Go to Heaven?

Animals have a funny way of wriggling their way into the deepest corners of one’s heart.

In the late summer of 2014, I had to face the difficult but unavoidable decision to hold hands and shed tears with my youngest son while we drove to the Veterinary hospital in Yardley, PA to bring peace to Romeo’s life and to end his excruciating pain.

He was a brave and funny dog,  and as miniature dachshunds often-times do, he maintained a puppy-like quality almost to the end. Unfortunately, age, arthritis and a severe birth defect made the decision to euthanize him clear but still painful.

11_Romeo Watching the Progress

Only a few weeks later, I said goodbye to Annie under the care of the same compassionate animal lovers and caregivers. This time on my own. As it turned out, Annie couldn’t bear the loss of Romeo in addition to her faithful companion Christian heading off to college. She passed in peace.

Annie on the steps.jpg

One of my favorite stories about Annie is when my friend Dan house sat for me while Christian and drove from Pennsylvania to Missouri. He called me on the third afternoon of his stay and said, “Beth, it’s so cute how Annie sits on the third step every day around three pm to watch the squirrels play.”

“Dan,” I said, “She’s not watching the squirrels play, she’s waiting for the school bus to bring Christian home.”

The memory of this exchange never fails to make me chuckle.

No Pets Ever Again

After this experience, I swore to myself and to my youngest son, no pets ever again. My commonly repeated reason was, “They’re too high maintenance, and I don’t want my lifestyle to be constrained by the effort it takes to care for a pet, especially if I want to travel or have to move again someday.”

Christian, my youngest son, gave me the right amount of time to grieve before the hints started dropping, not about a new dog, but of all things the hints were about how cute and low maintenance cats are.

No cats, no dogs, no pets remained my stance – well until it waivered with one too many cute cat pictures sent my way via mobile technology.

We started to talk about it and came to an agreement. If it was going to happen, and for me, that was a pretty big if – I would consider adopting an adult cat, one that was as hypo-allergenic as a cat can be and one that was not going to reproduce.

We agreed on all counts.

Google the Matchmaker

So, one night in early January of 2015, I first did some research to find which breeds of cat are the least likely to bother people with pet allergies. I quickly scrolled past and dismissed the idea of owning a hairless cat and just as quickly, began to seriously consider the notion of finding and adopting a Russian Blue.

Russian Blues are described to be intelligent, somewhat shy around strangers but still sociable, playful and affectionate with their owners. I was sold by the description alone, and then there is the fact that Russian Blues are gorgeous. They have a special kind of grey coat of hair; it’s thick and smooth and shiny. But, it’s the eyes that captured me – I never knew there could be such expression in a cat’s face.

Maybe it’s the way they’re a bit wide set on their face combined with the large ears that made me fall in love with the breed. I just couldn’t help but think that if, and again a big if, I were to adopt a cat, a Russian Blue would be the right match.

After completing my research, I did one Google search. It was something along the lines of “adult Russian Blue cats for adoption near me.”

The first link in the search results was to an animal shelter in Trevose, PA. Before clicking through, I checked the distance from me and decided it was reasonable. One click later, I found Mia. A female Russian Blue, everything from the description of her personality to her glamour shot was spot on, and I felt my resolve around the topic of “no pets ever again” begin to dissolve.

Mias glamour shot from the shelter website

I copied her glamour shot and sent it to Christan in a text message. As you can guess, the deal was sealed for both of us, and I brought her home on January 15, 2015.

Mia on here first day at home. Jan 16 2015

Life on Pine Grove Road

Meeting Mia at the shelter was a bit discombobulating. I’ve never seen so many kittens and cats running around in a confined space. Mia was in a kennel, sequestered from the other cats, while at the same time she was smack dab in the middle of the chaos.

The caregivers at the shelter explained to me that she was just under a year old, had no tolerance for other cats and had been in the shelter for nearly eight weeks. I felt compelled to bring her home.

It didn’t take any time at all for Mia to settle into her new home on Pine Grove Road in Yardley, PA. Mia and I enjoyed two full summers in our house with a three season porch. She loved to enjoy the view from the windows while I puttered around with paints.

She regularly supervised my creative sessions and working sessions, no matter what room in the house they happened to take place.

 

Oddly enough, one of her favorite places to hang out was on the third step with a view into the front yard. Her favorite time, also around 3:00 pm.

Mia on the steps

I’d be remiss in telling this story if I didn’t mention that all was not completely smooth with Mia’s adjustment during this time. Her eight-week stay in the shelter as a kitten, not quite a cat had left her a bit skittish and untrusting, which led to some behavioral challenges mostly to do with using the litterbox.

More than one trip to the vet resulted in medicine and special food to treat her interstitial cystitis symptoms. I had no idea that there was such a thing as a neurological condition that affects a cat’s bladder and causes them pain when they use the litter box. It’s often-times caused by stress.

At any rate, the meds and the food seemed to work and life with Mia was more than good.

The Road to Omaha

A new work opportunity halfway across the country in October of 2016 meant packing up my belongings and settling into a new abode in Omaha, NE.

I packed a suitcase full of the comforts of home for Mia, boarded the plane (after going through security with her, which was a trip in and of itself), and checked into a pet-friendly hotel before pumping up the air mattress in my new apartment.

We settled into a routine, one that was enjoyable, although not without similar challenges to those we experienced in Pennsylvania.

 

Mia’s keen sensitivity and awareness sometimes got the best of her, but again thanks to special food and treatment options, her behavioral challenges were manageable.

I’d never thought of cats as particularly intuitive or expressive, but Mia certainly challenged that perspective.  On more than one occasion, in not so subtle ways, “encouraged” me to get out of bed and into the day.

One Move too Many

I didn’t move to Omaha with the expectation of staying there for the rest of my life. However, I didn’t expect that my return to the city would only be for a couple of years. But that’s what happened.

Mia and I traveled by plane from Philly to Omaha. We drove in style from Omaha to Syracuse. The trip included a brand new trave cat tube and a trunk full of cat and people essentials for camping out in our new home; once again waiting for the movers to deliver our belongings.

 

We arrived and settled in the best we could while we waited for the rest of our belongings to be delivered.

Outside of the expected initial stress-related, but manageable challenges, Mia seemed to settle into our new home with no problem.  We resumed our twice a day treat toss routine, she supervised my unpacking and organizational efforts from the comfort from her favorite basket to a cave made of packing paper or a chest full of linens depending on what was most readily available.

 

Then things began to change. Three months after moving in, we had our first visitor; one of my coworkers came over to help me hang some pictures. Mia’s reaction to new people had always been unpredictable; sometimes she showed complete indifference and other times she greeted a lucky visitor with a forehead or tail rub to the calf.

On this particular cold March day, her greeting was a hiss, a rather scary one at that. I haven’t had many visitors here, but the few I’ve had all got the same unwelcoming greeting from Mia. She didn’t even make an exception for the woman I interviewed to be her cat sitter whenever I traveled.

The hissing was the first of many behaviors that changed and worsened over the following months. The door frames and baseboards started to look like swiss cheese; there were nights that she pawed and clawed at the patio door so violently I thought she might actually cause damage.

Our morning routine changed entirely. We still started the morning with a game of treat toss, but instead of laying on the end of my bed or just outside the bathroom door while I got ready for work, she started hiding under the folds of the comforter on the floor at the end of my bed.

Sounds harmless, right? It seemed so until she started pouncing at me with claws bared. It got so that I had no idea what to expect from her. One minute she was more affectionate than she’d ever been and the next she was lashing out with claws and sometimes even teeth.

Between her increasingly aggressive and erratic bearing and the damage she was inflicting on the woodwork and carpets, I had to make a very difficult choice. I’d tried everything from the meds her Vet in Omaha prescribed to help with anxiety to sprays, diffusers; you name it, I tried it – all to no avail. I came to the sad realization that I was not going to be able to keep her. We were both in distress.

My first thought was to find her a new home and I found a couple of reputable websites that help facilitate the adoption process. In the end, that was unsuccessful. I had more than a few inquiries, but they all had kids in the house and many had other pets. There was no way I could think about putting her in a home with children, the risk of her lashing out at a small child was too great.

In hopes that a Veterinary clinic would help me do two things, I made an appointment for her. My hopes were that they might be able to help me find a new home for her, or worst case scenario they could assuage the guilt I felt for the research I’d done on pet euthanasia.

During this entire time, I kept thinking about my dear friend Gina and how much she loved Mia and how she’d adopted and cared for more than one adult cat with special needs over the course of her life. My hope was that I would be able to find someone like Gina to take Mia in and give her a new home.

The Veterinarian’s assistant checked us in and we put Mia on the scale. She weighed just under 11 lbs when we left Omaha, that night she weighed in at 7.5. I knew she’d lost weight, but, as Christian and I liked to describe her, she was so “flurffy” – it masked just how much weight she had lost in a very short period of time. There was no more doubt that something was seriously wrong.

After relaying my tear-choked account of events to the Vet, she gently suggested to me that euthanasia might well be the very kindest thing to do for Mia. She also did her best to try and find a new home for miss Mia, to no avail. She also agreed with me that given her past – putting her in a shelter, surrounded by other animals would be the worst thing I could do.

With many tears, and thankfully with gentle hugs from the staff, I said goodbye to Mia.

It wasn’t until I returned home, that I realized it was Gina’s birthday.

I think cat’s do go to Heaven, and I believe Mia is with Gina.