ON BECOMING A MATURED WOMAN

Do not complain about growing old. It is a privilege denied to many.” –Mark Twain

*Disclaimer: This post contains gender-specific and hormone-related information. It is intended for mature readers only. Men are not discouraged from reading this educational material if so desired. Mild sexual references included. Proceed at your own will. You have been warned…

We remember it clearly, as I am sure most women of our generation do: In the fifth grade, the girls and boys were separated, and taken to separate rooms. We were given “The Talk,” the one about how our bodies, if they hadn’t already started to do so, would soon be changing. We would soon leave childhood behind, and become young women.

I recall having learning most of it already, probably mostly from Mom, but perhaps some from Gail, too. She was always–and still is–a good teacher. It didn’t blow my mind as much as the other “talk” did, the one about the birds and the bees. That came directly from Mom. I swore I would never do that. Gross.

I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I am 99% sure this is the book all the girls in my class were given after that lesson:

I didn’t save it, I doubt any of us did. With a little digging, I found an image of it online. If any of my hometown homies can corroborate or correct me, I would welcome that.

So there it was, spelled out in words and pictures, as well as spoken to us, likely from the school nurse. We left that room forever changed, and waiting for those changes, if they hadn’t already happened. We were told to welcome the beginning of fertility, because, as women, it was our destiny.

Having learned to drive already on the farm, I still had to take driver’s ed to make it official. It was June after my 8th grade year. That’s when I became that woman I was destined to be. If you had told me then that I would get to deal with that nearly every month for 39 years, it likely wouldn’t have sunk in. Looking back, however, that is a long time to deal with that, and a small fortune spent on “feminine products.”

Now, on the other side of the hump, I have one huge, glaring question: Why weren’t pre-menopausal women once again separated from the boys, and taken aside several years before “The Change,” ushered into a private little room, and given another “Talk” on what was coming down the pike for us as we exited our fertile years? Why didn’t they give us another handy little handbook? They told us what to expect when we got on that bus, so why not let us know the hell that may await as we try, perhaps for several years, to get off that bus?

That’s not fair.

I learned very little about that in a structured form, mostly hearsay from the women who blazed that trail before me. I chose to educate myself during the process to save my sanity, but I truly had no idea what was coming.

Now, I understand this was my unique experience, and mine alone. While many women like me struggled, others, like, say, Gail, didn’t. To quote her directly, this is her summary, given to me earlier today: “As for hot flashes, I may have had them, but was deep in the throes of donut-making in a hot kitchen, so who knows?”

I’m here to tell you, if she had hot flashed like I did–and still do, she would know it. Normally one to welcome the scorching summer heat, I have welcomed the sub-zero temps the last few winters. Rushing outside in these temps was instant, welcome, blessed relief when that sudden inferno started up deep within my core. As the name implies, it is indeed a flash, lasting perhaps a few minutes, and not to be confused with the heat of a fever, or a blast from a hot oven, or the heat from the sweltering sun. It is like no other feeling of heat. It begins deep in the core, and radiates outward, perhaps complete with sweat.

I recently had a retired physician as a home health patient. His house was already hot, and the flash hit me. I began to suddenly and visibly sweat, and I had to remove my top layer–dressing in layers when possible helps me. It was obvious to him that something was amiss, so I simply and honestly said, “I’m sorry, hot flash. I’m sure you understand.” He did.

It’s difficult to hide a flash when it is so intense, and my husband and sons are used to me running outside or tearing off a layer or throwing off the covers. Last summer, when we were the only ones home, my husband and I were on the back porch near the above-ground pool. The flash flashed, and I didn’t hesitate: I simply tore all my clothes off and quickly threw myself into the pool for blessed and instant relief. Whatever it takes.

Then, there’s the little matter of sleep. While Suzanne struggles because she doesn’t have a thyroid, and Gail can subsist on next to no sleep, my sleep needs are extreme. As in, at least eight hours a night. And that means good sleep. Unfortunately, my sleep is often interrupted by hot flashes–which, brutally, become worse at night, and by the 3 a.m. wide-awake spells, which may last for several hours. Mercifully, to combat that, I have discovered three magic letters: CBD. That’s all I have to say about that.

And, just in case anyone on the other side of my bed doesn’t understand how important sleep is to me, I have made it abundantly clear with informational plaque on the headboard.

The roller-coaster mood rides deserve an honorable mention as well; they are similar to those I felt when I entered fertility. They have smoothed out, they feel much like a kiddie roller-coaster now. I have heard it said that if you struggle going into fertility, you will likely struggle coming out. This has been true for me. Not so much for Gail, because, as you may already know, not much gets her down. Suzanne seems to coast along, too.

And we can’t forget the bladder. Tucked neatly in front of the uterus, it is subjected to the whims of the womb. Like two siblings in the back seat of the car, one may put just enough physical pressure on the other to make it a big deal to cry about. And the bladder does cry. As in…“take me to the bathroom AGAIN! And again, and again.

Having just given you the litany of the hormonal hell that I have lived through, and that other women may find themselves in, let me assure anyone struggling through, or yet to struggle through, with this affirmation: It’s all worth it.

Lucky for me, I was the one-in-five women who are rewarded with larger breasts during menopause. My girls, while they sustained two babies, finally appear to have reached puberty. Suzanne’s daughter asked her quietly, not long ago, “Did Kathleen get a boob job?” Nope. Just menopause. Sometimes a “B” really is better than an “A.”

While the hot flashes still plague me off and on, I feel I have emerged into the other side, the beautiful, post-menopausal green meadow with butterflies and wildflowers. The land of Act Two. The time and space to be the next woman I was destined to be. The chemical messengers known as hormones have relaxed, knowing their job with me is reduced to part-time. They have given me a break, and I am grateful for that.

Suzanne, quite simply, says she doesn’t want to grow up, so her contributions to this post are limited. She tells me today that she was absent that day in fifth grade when they had “the talk.” She came back to find the little book in her desk. So, she says, she has exempted herself from any suffering, because, she had no information, then, or now. Gail, however, has always been the wise one to me, so perhaps she didn’t have to wait for the autumn of her life to feel like a wise woman.

She relishes her role as grandmother, adding that these three boys are the best part of aging for her:

While I can claim no genetic contribution to the charm and irresistibility of my stepson’s children, they have indeed added a new and exciting dimension to our lives:

Perhaps the best part of this phase of life are the hard lessons learned all along and put to work now, because we can see aging as the gift it is. My hair, while normally straight, has began its own wave in the recent years. I now have a whole new appreciation for hairpins. I hesitated with the following picture, because, well, not only can you see the wave and the gray, but you can see the wrinkles around my eyes and on my neck, but I have earned them, and they are my badges of honor. I wouldn’t trade them for the wisdom I gained getting them. Gail only has a few gray hairs, and plans to let the rest come in gray as well. It is all part of the process.

While I haven’t yet sworn off of coloring my hair again just a bit to cover the gray, I am inspired by two beautiful women who chose to embrace the glory of aging, complete with gray hair.

Chris, my neighbor-friend, always had the most gorgeous brown hair to frame her beautiful face. During the shut-down in the spring of 2020, she decided to take hair matters into her own hands, and shave it all off. She was recently retired, and, she tells me, she could be incognito in the grocery store with her bald head and a mask, because it was her only outing. Clearly, she remains radiant with gray hair–if not more so than with her brown hair.

Shari, my friend of 50 years, has embraced the beauty of gray as well. Like Chris, her beauty shines through, no matter what the hair color.

Perhaps the greatest gift of life after fertility is the sure knowledge that we have the power to make choices about our lives. We can surround ourselves only with those people, places and situations that bring us joy, and leave the others behind. We realize more fully that we can decide what works for us and what doesn’t, and let any negative energy from others roll off our backs. Except for the fraction of the population who could be classified as sociopathic, and truly wants to cause harm to others, we realize that everyone else, just like we are, is simply trying to do what works for them. If it happens to offend or hurt us, that likely wasn’t their intention. We are all just trying to cover our own bases and our asses, and in that process, sometimes feelings are hurt.

It is for them, not against you.

Sharing the indomitable wisdom of Helen Reddy: “Yes, we’re wise, but it’s wisdom born of pain.” Most of that pain can be over if we let it go. It’s our choice, and if you haven’t already, it’s probably time to do so.

WE ARE WOMEN, HEAR US ROAR

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES

I should never assume that, just because something is difficult for Suzanne and me–as well as most of our generation, that it is difficult for Gail, too.

I tend to forget that not much gets her down.

For the past few weeks, I have been complaining to Suzanne, and anyone else who will listen, about my struggles with technology, specifically my new computer and the programs I am learning, as well as unfortunate technical incidents I have recently experienced.

When I asked Gail about how she handles computer glitches, in her trademark style, she reports “I don’t get stressed about it. It’s not worth it. I just picture the successful outcome, and keep going forward. It always works out.”

Maybe for her. Suzanne and I, and I am guessing many people over age 50, struggle with the ever-changing world of computer technology.

It makes me crazy,” Suzanne says. “I hear people talking about a PDF, a JPEG, and I am lost. I don’t get it. we are always having to learn new updates.”

Amen, sister.

********

When Suzanne and I returned from our beach trip last month, we had to get back in the groove of life on land. It was hard enough without the technical difficulties literally facing me when I opened my computer up the next day for a noon Zoom meeting. I had taken it along in its padded case and transported it in the back seat with the blanket and pillows, but somehow it sustained a fatal blow. It was a touch-screen, and the screen was cracked. The video portion of our call quickly was lost, and everything went downhill from there, until it was no longer functional. I went straight downhill with it.

My book was on there; I have been working hard to wrap it up. And another book. And two others I am starting. And several hundred WORD documents.

I knew I had no choice but to suck it up and plow forward with a new one. I knew that someone, somewhere, was a computer wizard who could transfer everything from my old computer to the new one. So, while I did panic, I knew I would find them, and all would be saved.

Because I am an old dog and I have no desire to learn new tricks, I knew it would need to be replaced with another one just like it. Except they no longer make that model, which I bought only three years ago. So, I dug in, did the research, called the company and found the closest replacement. It showed up on my porch two days later.

I took them both in to the local wizards, and sure enough, they saved the day–and my documents, as well as my sanity. And everything else on my computer. They gave me the hard drive from the old computer–about the size of a flat stick of gum–and told me to tuck it safely away somewhere just in case…All was well.

Or so I thought.

My new computer is fully personalized…

When I opened it up again to get back to the book, it was nowhere. Not in the file I had created. Not with the hundreds of other WORD documents. Nowhere. Neither was the other one, or the other files I had created as beginnings of other books.

I felt a wave of disbelief, then nausea, then my little voice kicked in and reminded me that nobody died. It could be a lot worse. The panic didn’t leave after that reminder; but my self-talk went something like this: You have both books on paper. You may have lost the words for the other books, but you haven’t lost the ideas. It will be a fresh start; perhaps even better than what you had.

This was all flowery and good, except I wasn’t buying it from that little voice. Once you get words on paper, they can never be duplicated when lost. Perhaps the general idea, but never the words. And when you were happy with what you wrote, this is soul-crushing for a writer. The waves of nausea and panic continued.

I had apparently been a little too confident, I neglected to put these documents on a jump drive, because that won’t happen to me. Neither did I consciously save them in a cloud; I don’t even know how that really works. I called the computer wizards, cried on their shoulders (again), and granted them remote access to my new computer. They couldn’t find the files either, but it since was close to closing time, they assured me it was there somewhere, and asked me to bring it back in the morning, along with the hard drive they took out of the old computer.

I did just that, after an almost-sleepless night.

Turns out I did save them to a cloud; I just didn’t know I had done that. Except for two chapters of the book I was working on–the longest and the shortest, everything showed up–as far as I can tell. I re-wrote those two chapters from the paper copies and called it a day. The wizards at JAB-IT in Salina, Kansas, saved my books–and my sanity. I owe them a debt of gratitude, which I will continue to attempt to repay with more cookies, and hopefully my recommendations that will bring more people with their computer issues through their doors. I highly recommend them to anyone in this area with computer issues; they’ve got the magic.

The owner, Jason A. Bathon deserves special thanks, not just for his help with my computer, but for his service to our country in the United States Navy. The book he saved, the one I am wrapping up, details the life of another veteran. It is a departure from my normal writing subjects, but I am honored to help tell the story of a Vietnam Veteran who fought for our country over 50 years ago, experienced the devastation of war, and has led the most incredible life since then.

I have become more keenly aware of the sacrifices of our veterans, and whatever I can do to help them in their journey after their service to our country, I will do. Which is why I am recommending Jason’s business to anyone who needs computer help, and why I am hoping the book, One American’s Story: War, PTSD, Politics, Parkinson’s and the Pandemic Through the Eyes of a Vietnam Veteran, will soon be on your reading list. Jim, the Vietnam Veteran I am co-authoring with, offers incredible insight into the nature of conflict not just in Vietnam, but in our present-day society as well.

If, like me, you are an American who values your freedom, but knows woefully little about the Vietnam War, as well as the aftermath, and how it compares to our present-day conflicts, then perhaps your eyes will be opened through this book, too. If, like me, you say thank you for your service when you see an active-duty military person, or a veteran of any war, but feel there is little else you can to do thank them, please consider reading the book, and letting Jim’s wisdom sink in.

We are hoping to have it ready on Kindle Direct Publishing via Amazon within the next few weeks. I will let you know when it is available both in print, and as an e-book.

Having gestated and birthed two children, I think I can safely compare the book-writing process to that: the development seems slow, painful and tiring at times, but now that the final steps are taking place, the contractions have started, and exciting things are happening. We had to call in a few specialists, but it looks like the bouncing baby book will be just fine, once it gets here.

I must also give special thanks to my new friend Laura, who is the formatting wizard. She is preparing the book for publication, and if I hadn’t struck up a conversation with her at her garage sale early in the summer, I would be having even more technical difficulties.

**********

I am proud to say that, after a year of use, I am now feeling comfortable with my iPhone.

I was a die-hard Android user, and somehow, someway, my children talked me into converting to an iPhone. Initially, I regretted it, but now that I am comfortable with it, I can say I am happy I did it. Most importantly because it allows me the easiest method to communicate with my son, who is literally on the other side of the world.

It was a steep learning curve, and I still have questions sometimes, but my youngest son is still around to help me answer them, because he has the very same phone.

Obviously, I am not proficient with technology. I have realized with age, and especially through my work, that most people are either primarily left-brained, which means they are good with facts and concrete information, or they are right-brained, which means they are good with abstractions and tend to be more creative. I know that I fall into the latter category, which means I struggle with technology.

Language learning is typically done effortlessly in the first few years of life. Children, if raised in a multi-lingual home, often pick up two languages simultaneously, and speak them both perfectly. There is abundant research to show that this window of learning is wide open until about age five, when it begins to slowly close. It never completely closes, it just become harder with age, much like learning new technology.

Anyone born before the 80’s will likely agree with us: we didn’t learn computers/cell phones as children, which has made the learning a bit harder with age.

Age, however, doesn’t preclude such learning. It was once thought that the brain lost its plasticity with age, but research and experience has shown us differently. In my work as a speech therapist, I have been privileged to witness this rebounding many times. The human brain is resilient, and remains open to new styles of learning, whether due to illness or injury, or the presence of new technology.

Some people like Suzanne and me, however, resist it. Others like Gail, just roll with it.

About 15 years ago, my six siblings and I gave our parents a computer for Christmas. In our discussions prior to that gifting, I think I was the one who was most doubtful. “I really don’t think they will use it,” I said, “but I’ll go along with it.”

Turns out Mom and Dad had to sign up for time slots because they both enjoyed it so much. Turns out I ended up inheriting it when they died because I was the only one who needed a new computer at that time.

I’m so glad they all proved me wrong.

************

Suzanne and I had a low-tech lunch in the park on Friday of this week. We brought sandwiches, enjoyed the beautiful weather and beautiful landscape, talked and laughed. I almost made her choke once, but she pulled through.

We then took turns snapping each other’s photos in front of the three trees, one for each of us three sisters.

As always, we miss Gail when we are together, but she is always there in spirit. And, thanks to technology, always just a phone call away.

I am feeling more comfortable every day with my new computer, and I still have to remind myself that these technological difficulties are very much a first-world problem. A problem I may not have if not for our veterans, as well as active-duty, Reserves and National Guard soldiers. It is a privilege of the first world.

Thank you, Jim and Jason, and every other soldier, past and present. Our technical difficulties–and all the other difficulties– would be much greater if not for you all.

SUNFLOWER SISTERS

It’s that time of year again. My three favorite months of the year are now behind us; it’s always hard for me to leave summer behind.

There is one grace, one gift of late August/early September that gives me an unparalleled high: the Kansas sunflower is in full bloom. Around Labor Day, the sunflowers start showing off again–and they have every right to.

Our mom loved sunflowers. In yet another effort to keep our parents’ spirits alive and well, Gail, Suzanne and I have taken her affinity for the Kansas state flower and formed a new appreciation for this beautiful gem.

Perhaps I am a little more extreme than they are in many ways, but I took it to the next level, complete with Mom’s signature in the leaf:

My long-lived affinity for blue moons is celebrated as well, wrapped around the sunflower. It just seemed right to pair them.

*********

What a gift it is to be born into a family with sisters whom you love so much. Many women aren’t so lucky, and we are fully aware of this. We had no choice but to be together, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. They are not only my sisters, they are my best friends.

Other friends are in our lives by choice. We decide who to let in, and who to keep. Sometimes friendships are made because we are drawn to a person, other times they are formed by chance.

When I went to college in 1984, I was assigned a potluck roommate. You take what you get, and this means taking a chance. I hit the jackpot with Marilyn. She was a sophomore, having learned the freshman ropes already. She was majoring in speech pathology, and I always admired her dedication to this field. It sparked my interest as well, but it took a master’s degree, and I knew I would be lucky to finish with a bachelor’s.

Greater than my interest in her field of study was our friendship. We hit it off, and we welcomed others into our circle, including my dear friend from my hometown, Tracy, as well as Denise, a friend from close to her hometown.

The four of us lived together in an apartment the next year, and the memories we made will last forever, even if some of us can’t remember certain ones. I will never forget, and will always be grateful to Marilyn for inspiring me to pursue the career I chose.

We had the opportunity to fill in each other’s memory holes this past weekend. Two years ago, we gathered to celebrate our 35-year-bond (A Time to Reap, July 2019).

We vowed to gather again every July, but last year, well, it was 2020. This year, however, we had a grand opportunity to meet. After being delayed twice to COVID, we took in a concert in the grand theater in the downtown of my small city.

This was no average concert. This was another Kansas girl, our very own Martina McBride. Even more cool than that, she hails from very close to Marilyn’s and Denise’s hometowns. When she spoke to the crowd–she made it clear how much she loves to be back home, mentioning her hometown of Sharon, Kansas, as well as her family band she grew up in: The Schiffters–her maiden name was Schiff. We were among the few hooting; Marilyn and Denise knew exactly where Sharon, Kansas was, and we were in the area to hear her years ago. Her musical family played at festivities in the area and when I went home with Marilyn in 1984 (85?) for a weekend, we had the privilege of hearing her sing at a wedding dance.

Martina played at this same theater five years ago, and we were there, too. Her legendary voice comes from such a small dynamo, but we know that Kansas girls are big, strong and mighty on the inside. Martina exemplifies this in her voice; we all waited for our favorites to be belted out, and she didn’t disappoint.

We know we are truly Blessed, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear the every day should be Independence Day. If I’d had one request, however, I would have asked for the all-time great Christian song, the song that has the power to bring so much peace to a funeral: How Great Thou Art. We had it as one of the songs at our parents’ funeral, and I will never forget it. Perhaps, however, that request was granted long ago, as I will detail in a moment.

All three of these friends-for-life made the trip to be with me that day, and I will never forget that, either. All three of them know the joy of having sisters, but all three of them also know the pain of losing a sister. I cannot fathom that pain, because, as Martina sings in Blessed, I love them so much it hurts.

But both joy and pain in life, as we all know in our own ways, and from our own losses, have a way of waxing and waning. Joy, if we work at it, and let our loved ones and friends help, can override the pain. It takes work, and it takes letting those people in to share the pain, but it can be done.

Remember, sharing joy multiplies it, while sharing sorrow divides it. And never ever forget there is a force stronger than any of us at work all around us. Love is our proof of that. I have a story about more proof I found on my own, the story of my request granted.

It was in the 90’s, and my husband and I were visiting Mom and Dad on the farm. It was late summer, and the sunflowers and other wildflowers were in bloom, and the road west of our farm was a great place to take in this natural beauty. I headed out for my morning run, and put on my music–this was pre-iPod days, and the best I had was a bulky set of headphones that would tune in to local FM stations.

I almost always run to music, and these usually got me through. It was a Sunday morning, and there was a local station with a Christian music show at that hour, so I tuned in.

When I got to the curve about a mile west of the farm, the DJ announced a song from Martina McBride. I was hopeful that it would be How Great Thou Art, of course. Just two weeks prior, we were visiting Mom and Dad, and when I ran, I had the same station tuned in and her masterpiece rendition of that song played. Further, it was in almost exactly the same place I was running at that moment.

The song began, but it wasn’t that one. I don’t recall which one it was, but I know it was beautiful. The FM signal wasn’t always consistent, and it began to fade. That song faded out, and another song faded in: it was Martina McBride singing How Great Thou Art. She finished, and her first song faded back in, and it finished. The DJ came back on, commented on her beautiful voice in the other song, and went on with the show. No mention was made of what I heard. I do know what I heard, and I will believe this was a show of that great force that is always at work all around us. Sometimes we have to look for it, but sometimes, like that Sunday morning so long ago, it was presented to me, and could not be missed.

************

There are many things that bond sisters together. Love and loss, life and shared memories. Friends have those same bonds. It is often said that friends are the family we choose for ourselves. I am speaking for myself, but I couldn’t have chosen better sisters. I do get to choose my friends, but they have to choose me as well, and for that, I am so thankful that Tracy, Denise and Marilyn chose me back. We are celebrating 37 years as friends this fall; we came two-by-two to Fort Hays State University, and became a circle of four.

Tracy’s gift to us two years ago were the bracelets pictured above. This year, these rings are our new shared treasures.

************

The Kansas sunflower never fails to share its beauty at the close of every summer. My husband, knowing how much I love them, tried to plant a patch for me in his garden, with only one showing up.

Mark and The Sunflower Stalk

It seems that, much like some Kansas girls, they have a strong will to thrive in the wild, making their own decisions about where and when to bloom, choosing to do it in their own way. They prefer to share their gifts on their own terms, and they do it well. Leave them to act on their wisdom, and they won’t disappoint. But they never forget, just like Martina said to do as she left the stage, to take care of each other.

Just like some Kansas girls do.

THIS ONE’S FOR THE GIRLS

ANCHORS AWAY!

Take me to the ocean. Let me sail the open sea. To breathe the warm and salty air and dream of things to be.

The best way to begin the process of moving on, Suzanne and I have discovered, is to take a trip. Preferably, a beach trip. Getting out of our daily and weekly grooves gets us out of our heads, which is a good thing. Not to be confused with out of our minds, which is what may have happened if we hadn’t come to the beach.

The only thing missing was Gail. Our adventures are never the same without her, but we had her blessing to go on without her, so we did. She is our beacon, our rock, our guiding force of wisdom (and fun), but she couldn’t step away from her multiple obligations in order to get away. All those plates spinning in the air around her would crash and fall, and then she would have to start over. And she would, of course, because this is who she is.

This, however, is not what her little sisters are. We purposefully and decidedly passed on the obligations of keeping our plates spinning in the air to someone else, and we stepped out from underneath them. Our replacements picked up where left off, kept them in the air, and we both walked away, with nary a quick glance over our shoulders. We both knew it was time for change, so, we made those changes. Both of us. At almost the same time.

The best part is this: neither of us regret it. We both know we made the right decision.

Currently, as I write on this Friday evening, Suzanne and I are sitting in our condo in this idyllic beach town in the Florida panhandle. We shopped this morning, had lunch and then beached it until the storm hit. Feeding time soon rolled around again, and we had dinner, followed by a sunset walk on the beach.

Talk about getting out of the groove. There is nothing like the waves crashing on the beach to get us out of our heads, and keep us from losing our minds.

Now, this is not to say that Suzanne and I have thrown all caution to the wind; we haven’t completely abdicated our adult-ish responsibilities of work and other obligations. We are simply re-thinking, refreshing, retooling, relaxing, rejuvenating, reframing, re-ordering our priorities. Both of us, at precisely the same times, knew it was time to make changes in our work lives, so we are doing just that. Because we both made these decisions separately yet together, our timing was perfect to give ourselves a little beach break in between.

Again, it is never the same without Gail. We found ourselves more mellow, more subdued, more reserved than if she would have been with us. This is not to say that we were quiet by any means, but just not as extroverted as Gail typically is. There were a few moments, during the post-tropical storm Fred rains, that we needed Gail there to jump start other, non-beach kinds of fun. We did manage to find things to do (shopping, puzzling) that were possible in the rain.

Did I say in my last post that the trip would be half the fun? I think so. However, if you decide to make this 17-hour trip to the Florida Panhandle any time in the near future, we strongly recommend considering air travel. We did see some beautiful country, and we did enjoy our time together, but two days in the car may be a bit much for even the closest of sisters when the beach is calling. Suzanne threatened to hop a plane back after the trip there, but as with most of her threats, it was idle. Good thing, because I needed her as first mate for navigation, as well as a break from the driver’s seat. How did we figure out how to travel before navigation anyway? How did we know exactly which turn to take? How did we know that those residential streets through Mobile, Alabama were the quickest route?

Perhaps they weren’t. Perhaps the human brain’s ability to use a map and employ its pathfinding skills is under-appreciated. It is very likely under-stimulated since the advent of navigation, and this is not always a good thing. Suzanne had the good sense to take along a paper road atlas; it is always there when we need it, and it never changes its routes.

It seems we silly humans always know what is best for us, even when it’s not the easiest thing. Like using a roadmap in conjunction with navigation. Like making work changes. Like working our brains to tap into our deep wisdom. Like listening to the little voice inside to make other big life changes.

Which is what Suzanne and I have tried hard to do to make these changes, and neither of us regret it. We have a lower tolerance for the work-related difficulties that Gail skillfully, artfully and expertly lets roll off her back. The older sister is usually the best at this. We’ve both cried ‘Uncle,’ and we’re moving on.

And all three of us are happy with our decisions, which is the best part. The beach trip confirmed this for Suzanne and me.

Suzanne and I will keep you abreast of our changes when the time is right, but suffice it to say at this point, our new work faces will have same of the same features of the old ones, but some new ones, too. Stay tuned.

A quick look at the current weather radar for the southeast United States will show the projections and trajectory of Hurricane Ida. My heart breaks for those whose lives will be torn asunder by yet another show of Mother Nature’s wrath. I am thankful, however, that our trip home was five days ahead of this devastation. Much of our route was in those bright, but foreboding colors on the map. Suzanne, in her unique, but twisted sense of adventure, has always wanted to be in the thick of a hurricane. As much as I love her, I don’t always understand her. It’s her (and Gail’s) affinity for wind. Not mine, thank you. I find whatever ways I can to escape the wind, and Gail and Suzanne are like moths to a flame in the wind.

In order to pull up anchors and set sail however, one must have a little wind. One cannot expect calm seas at all times. For example, when we got in my car to depart for home, the dashboard screen was lit up like a Christmas tree. Check engine was the first warning I saw, along with several other high-tech warning symbols. I let the first wave of panic splash over me, then, in her little sister wisdom and foresight, Suzanne quickly pulled out the owner’s manual. The most likely cause was a loose gas cap, but after tightening it–I’m pretty sure it was a bit loose–the lights remained bright. Several stops and starts to reset the engine were attempted, but to no avail. A quick call to my Mark-of-all-trades husband confirmed our next step: take it to the nearest authorized dealer. $174 and some change later, the fine folks at Subaru of Fort Walton Beach unplugged those Christmas lights, set them right, and pronounced us okay to drive home, but check it out at your authorized dealer if it lights up again. We made it home with no further warnings.

Thank you, Charlie–their master mechanic. That was a small price to pay for the peace of mind it gave us.

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After I settled upon this title, I found this treasure in a shop next door to our condo. It was the last one, on clearance, and in my size. I couldn’t leave it there. Along with several other souvenirs, this shirt will remind me of our adventure: Suzanne’s belated 50th birthday party.

This view will be a treasured memory, also: Suzanne’s love for Ferris wheels drew us to this one in nearby Panama City Beach. We had so much fun riding it Saturday night, so we went back Sunday morning to see the view from the top in the daytime.

Another of Suzanne’s favorite parts was this:

We got to meet, and gather the story of Carrot, the beach cat, and his owner J.T. They both live on the beach. Thanks to another interested tourist, Carrot even has his own Instagram page, should you choose to follow as well: Carrot the Seagrove Cat. Both Carrot and J.T. were characters, living the beach life by choice every day.

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The miles home seemed to stretch on endlessly, as they often do on the return trip. Mississippi turned into Alabama, and we turned in for the night in Pine Grove. Hitting the road the next morning before 8 a.m., we welcomed Fort Smith, then Tulsa, Wichita, and finally Salina shortly after 5 p.m.

True to Kansas-girl form, there really is no place like home. But the beach will always beckon us, always fill us with new hope and strength to work on our next dreams, whatever they may be. For now, however, we are pulling up anchors from our old ports, but we won’t travel far to our new callings in life. We are anchored here, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

But that salty air and the crashing waves helped us realize that. If you, too, are being pulled to the beach, we strongly recommend finding a way to make your trip there. Pull up your own anchor, and sail away. Come back, if you choose, like we did, or find your new port. Whatever you do, batten down your hatches and make your own waves.

AREA 51

AREA 51

Tomorrow, August 16th, is a very special day. I recall it vividly when history was made. I was a child, but something this monumental will never leave my memory: Elvis Presley died in 1977.

No, wait. Bigger than that, on that same day seven years before that, Suzanne was born. Let’s get our historical events ranked in order of importance here; sorry Suzanne.

If you recall a post last year at this time, I shared that while COVID had taken away any chance of Suzanne celebrating her 50th birthday in the grand fashion she had hoped, we would hope for brighter days ahead with a postponed celebration.

Our modified beach birthday party for Suzanne’s 50th last year.

While those days aren’t as bright as we had hoped, they are bright enough to allow us to have that grand 50th birthday party. And have it, we will. The only downer at this point is that Gail cannot join us. Gail, in her keenly developed work ethic and work obligations, has too many plates spinning in the air right now, and cannot escape with us. She has, however, had other reasons to travel lately.

She is now a grandmother to three grandsons, as her firstborn had her firstborn.

Myles is the big news in Gail’s life I alluded to in a recent post, and they are all over the moon with joy at this new addition to their family. According to his parents, he sleeps and eats, with little fussing in between.

Lucky Mom and Dad. Lucky Grandma.

We have, however, been able to enjoy some sister time together the last two weekends. Today, Gail came through our small city on her way back to her small town after spending the weekend with Myles and family.

Last weekend, we spent Saturday afternoon/early evening together in our hometown, partaking in the annual celebration. It didn’t happen last year, but this year’s 75th anniversary celebration was enjoyed by hundreds–young and old from near and far. It is the annual fundraiser for our hometown’s private Catholic high school, and without fail, human generosity prevails. Our hometown truly is the small town that could–and does (The Little Town That Could, June 2nd, 2019).

Suzanne had made a visit earlier in the day, so Gail and I strolled down to the cemetery to bring our parents their annual church picnic burger and beer. They didn’t say so, but we know they appreciated it.

They are still with us in our hearts, no matter where we may be–near or far.

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In just two days, Suzanne and I will commence her 50th birthday celebration–just a year late. And, much like the mysterious, top-secret no-fly zone in the Nevada desert north of Las Vegas known as Area 51, we aren’t giving out a lot of information. Much like the country song states, we will be going to “some beach, somewhere.” We may post from the land of blue water and white sand, so stay tuned. We are driving, so the adventure will begin as soon as I pick her up early Tuesday morning.

The journey will be half the fun.

Happy Birthday to Suzanne on Monday. Area 51 can be mysterious and exciting; having just been there recently, I feel am qualified to show her how to make it that way. Of course, I will learn from her as well. She is much more adept at throwing caution to the wind than I am, so I will take notes. She is much more skilled at letting troubles roll off her back, so I will try harder to do just that. She has a stronger knack for finding the humor in things that others may not be able to, so I will hone that skill as well.

She is my little sister by over four years, but I look up to her in so many ways. She is a beacon of strength and spirit, just like our older sister is. In our family, I am so lucky to be sandwiched between these two amazing women.

Congratulations, Grandma Gail.

Happy Birthday, Sister Suzanne.

Thank you, Mom and Dad.

HAPPY FOURTH

We have a lot to look forward to. And a lot to look back on. And a lot to be grateful for in this moment.

Once again, the sisters of The Sister Lode are moving and shaking.

It seems life has a funny way of showing us what our choices are. Sometimes, it appears we have no choice in certain matters. Sometimes, it seems we have only one possible choice that will work. Sometimes, however, when we don’t like the choices offered to us, we find a few new ones.

We’ve learned to think outside the box like that. We’ve also learned that we can go back and un-check some of the boxes we once checked. We can take ourselves out of the game, if we no longer want to play. This doesn’t make us quitters; it actually makes us beginners in new directions.

In short, we have not limited Independence Day to just the Fourth of July; we have made Independence available every day. Perhaps this was a foreign concept to us in the not-so-distant past, but with Mom’s wisdom and a little flexing of the I-can-do-what-I-want-to-do-as-long-as-it-doesn’t-break-The-Ten-Commandments muscles, we are moving on to some pretty exciting things.

Stay tuned for more details in future posts, this juicy, hot news isn’t yet off the presses.

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Our country’s birthday came two weeks ago today, and my home hummed with its usual guests and celebrations. We hosted family, and my friends came for the week as they always do for July 4th–an incredible pair of sisters and their three daughters who are like family.

As always, fun was had, memories were made, and goodbye came too soon. Suzanne and her husband were able to join us, but we had to celebrate without Gail.

Gail is celebrating some wonderful news in her family, but, like the news above, it’s not yet off the presses. Suffice it to say it is bringing wondrous joy to all of us.

July is my favorite month of the year, and I don’t plan to take down my red-white-and-blue decor anytime before the end of the month. If I could, I would likely leave it up all year. My beloved, however, may frown upon that, and the neighbors, while it may not be frowned upon like year-round Christmas decorations are, may wonder what their crazy neighbor lady is thinking now.

No worries, I have an entire red-white-and-blue room in my home. If you should ever be an overnight guest, you will likely spend the night in my America/Kansas room. Just don’t plan on visiting for the last few weeks of August, because, along with one–and hopefully two–of my sisters, I will be away on yet another adventure.

Stay tuned for those details, too. You can safely bet the fun will be unprecedented.

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If we could, we would bring any takers along on our adventures. But, we won’t, because this is our gig. Greater than that idea, however is this: we hope to inspire you to find Independence Day every day in your life, too. If your mind needs it, we hope to broaden your idea of the possibilities for Independence and happiness in your life. We hope you can see that sometimes throwing some–but not all–caution to the wind is a good idea. We hope to show you that if some part of your life isn’t working, you have the power to change it. It takes work–starting with the mental kind, and while still keeping Mom’s Ten Commandments mantra mentioned earlier in mind, it can be done.

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1: July Fourth is Independence Day. 2: May Fourth offers a May the Fourth Be With You message. 3: March Fourth became March Forth for us when our parents died on that day. In short, please take these three messages from each of those dates with you: 1: Find your own Independence, whatever it looks like for you. Listen to the quiet, small voice whispering inside; it is infinitely wiser than all the big, loud voices outside of you. 2: May The Force Be With You. It’s there–find your own way to tap into it. 3: Whatever hardships life may hand you, keep pushing through them. Not around them, not over them, but through them.

The three sisters of The Sister Lode are pulling for you on the Fourth, and every day of the year.

My friend who visited, knowing how important the Fourth is to me, bought these napkins for me.

Special thanks to our dear reader JoAnn, who spotted Suzanne and me at a garage sale this weekend. She recognized us from this blog.

THE LONGEST DAY OF THE YEAR

I have been anticipating this day for half a year–exactly six months. Today, Father’s Day 2021, is the summer solstice. There is the longest amount of daylight today, and beginning tomorrow, the daylight will begin waning again. The earth is tilted on its axis, which means one hemisphere receives more sunlight and energy at different times of the year. I am in my element in full sun, full heat; long days.

How fitting that this day falls on the day we honor fathers, who, along with mothers, provide us with life, light and warmth from the day we were born.

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When I think of Father’s Day, most of my childhood memories of this day were created in the wheat field. It seems Dad was always harvesting on his day of honor, and we would celebrate him in his element; a farmer in his Kansas wheat field.

My son Jude with Dad in the combine

It didn’t seem fair that he didn’t get to take the day off, but he didn’t seem to mind. It’s what farmers do. When the wheat is ready, duty calls. The weather dictates their harvest schedule, and when the wheat ripens, the skies are clear and the wheat is dry, time is of the essence.

Dad taking a break for a harvest-field meal.

According to our farming brother, harvest will likely begin in three or four days, if the weather continues to cooperate. I will make my annual mecca to the farm, because a day in the wheat field, complete with sweat, dirt, wheat dust and full-on stink makes me feel whole again. Hopefully I can talk Suzanne into joining me; we have made the trip together in the past few years. Gail hasn’t been there in a few years; hopefully she can make the trip as well. It is the pinnacle of the year on the farm; we all grew up with our household economy revolving around this relatively short period of time each summer. We know how important it is, and there is no substitute for the energy and vibe of harvest.

Just like with Mother’s Day, it gets a little easier each year to celebrate this special day without Dad present. Today, I celebrated with my husband and his dad; Gail and Suzanne do not have their fathers-in-law to celebrate with. We have kept both Mom and Dad alive in our hearts, and this gets easier to do every day of the year.

Fathers, summer and harvest–so much to celebrate. Our wish is that you find as much joy in each of these as we do.

AND THEN THERE WAS ONE

Just a few short months ago in January of this year, my husband and I were not pet owners. We had no plans to get a pet of any kind, no yearnings to adopt an animal. But when an animal adopts you, it can be a different story.

In Crazy Cat Ladies (April 25th, 2021), I told the story of “Katleen,” the gray tiger-striped cat that showed up at our back door in January, promptly got pregnant and gave birth to seven kittens. That monumental birth-giving day was April 13th, just a few days shy of eight weeks ago. Eight weeks. The recommended time to keep kittens with their mother before adopting them out.

This weekend, the kittens went to their new homes–six of them, anyway. So, in less than six months, we have gone from being pet-free to the proud owners of two cats. We decided to keep one kitten for ourselves, as well as Katleen.

Cats have a way of making their owners proud; gushing about them to people who may or may not care, sharing stories and pictures, spending considerable amounts of money on their care and feeding, worrying about them, feeling like one’s heart has grown a few sizes since these creatures came into their lives.

I hardly recognize myself anymore; I am now an official crazy cat lady, just as I posted in the earlier blog. My husband doesn’t look or act the same, either. He has gone from “It’s your cat, figure it out,” to “I can build a pen in my shop for them,” laughing and enjoying them immensely–just as I have.

The mother’s post-birth complications are detailed in the previous blog; she rallied during her overnight stay at the vet just two days after her seven babies were born, championing the 50/50 odds the vet gave her for survival. She slid right back into the role of new mama cat; taking tender loving care of them, always looking out for their well-being and protecting them from any perceived threats.

These “Magnificent Seven” kittens were adorable and lovable, yes, but we knew we couldn’t take care of all eight cats forever. So, early in their new lives, we began looking for homes for at least six of them, thinking we just might want to keep one back for ourselves. The three black and three tiger-striped cats were difficult to tell apart, but the one multi-colored cat–“Slim,” as he was affectionately called as the runt of the litter, stood out. As the underdog (undercat), It didn’t take us long to decide that he would very likely stay with us. He seemed to have to fight harder than the others to find his place at the table, but Mama cat always made sure he got his share as well. In short order, he caught up with the smallest of the other six.

We lined up enough people who gave us a definite ‘yes,’ and more who said ‘maybe.’ When it came time to make adoption plans, however, none of them were able to take a cat (or cats) at this time, so we went back to square one. Once again, I offered them to Gail and Suzanne, but they remained firm. No cats for them–yet. However, when I told Suzanne that we planned to keep the runt, she reminded me that “you were the runt of our parent’s litter of seven, and we kept you….” It was, apparently, meant to be.

In the end, as it always happens, they went to homes that were perfect fits for each of them.

There was one female black cat and one female striped cat; the rest were males. One striped male cat went to an indoor home with several other grown cats. As I knew in my heart, and as the new owner’s pictures throughout this weekend have confirmed, it was a perfect fit.

Apollo seemed a bit uncertain at first–as did the other cats there, but they are all getting along beautifully in the two days they have been together.

The two female kittens made this little boy very happy; “Kitty” and “Pepper” are his first pets.

Tori, the vet tech in training I wrote about in the earlier post, took the remaining three males this morning. Between her home and her parent’s close-by rural home, they will have all the love and care they need in their new homes in the indoor shop areas. She has been a font of useful information from the beginning, and I am so happy she wanted these three. She didn’t have any others, and it was time for cats in her country home.

Mama cat is taking a well-deserved rest.
One of Kit’s favorite places is in this shoebox.

It’s a lot quieter in our shop now. Katleen and the last kitten–we have renamed him “Kit,” are settling into their new one-on-one routine. Kit is exploring the outdoors more today; we took the others out only for brief supervised outings one at a time; it wouldn’t have been possible to manage all of them outdoors at the same time. Their home base will still be our shop, although Katleen still tries to get in the house when she sees the chance–she remembers the week they spent in our guest room during the April snows.

My heart now has a soft spot for cats, especially my two. If I could have looked into a crystal ball a few years ago to see what I have become, I wouldn’t have recognized myself. Perhaps I needed to soften a bit; these creatures have a definite purpose within the human circle of life–if we let them. I spent many evenings in the shop having “cat therapy,” I could feel myself relax and unwind when I sat and held them; petting a cat brings on a sense of calm.

The kittens don’t sit still for petting as long as they did even a few weeks ago, but that is the feline circle of life. Just like toddlers, they are too busy to be held when there is fun to be had. And that’s the way it should be.

I’d like to offer a big thank-you to the new adoptive owners, they made the letting-go as easy as possible. To any cat lover whom I may have offended in the past when I didn’t seem to care about your cat stories or cat pictures (I probably didn’t), I am offering an apology. I didn’t get it. I do now.

Special thanks to my neighbor Sue who saw me through this adventure, and to the fine folks at Sunflower Veterinary Clinic in Minneapolis, Kansas, who offered continued support when needed. Happy Birthday today–6/6– to my friend Tana, one of the craziest cat ladies I know–and love. I understand you more fully now.

Apparently, I was a crazy cat girl…

JOYOUS MOTHER’S DAY

Joyous Mother’s Day to all mothers out there.

To all grandmothers.

To all stepmothers.

To all daughters and sons of wonderful mothers.

To all daughters and sons of mothers who did their best, even if it didn’t feel good enough. After all, every woman with children, I believe, does the best she can.

To all women who may not have been a mother, but who acted in a motherly role to help bring up a child.

To all women who wanted to be a mother, but were not able to become one.

To all women who gave birth, but lovingly gave their baby to someone they knew could take better care of this gift of life.

To all women who adopted these gifts of life.

To all women who had to give their child back to the heavens. They come through us on loan, not from us.

To all women who are preparing to say goodbye to their mothers, as their time is nearing.

To all women who still have their mothers here on earth, but who may not recognize them as their child.

To all daughters and sons who lost their mother to COVID, a form of loss none of us ever dreamed of.

To all daughters and sons whose mothers battle, or did battle addiction, or other demons.

To all mothers whose children battle addiction, or other demons.

To all mothers who are estranged from their children.

To all children who are estranged from their mothers.

To all mothers who are away from their children in service to our country. ‘Thank you for your service’ will never be enough words of gratitude, but we offer them to you today, and every day.

To all children whose mothers are away in service to our country. Your mother is a hero.

To all mothers whose children are away in service to our country. Your child is a hero.

To all grandmothers and sometimes great-grandmothers who raised their grandchildren, even if they would rather not have.

To all daughters and sons, like me and my siblings, who celebrate our mothers who were taken from us too soon. This, I have come to learn, is anyone who has lost their mother, as we are never old enough to let go.

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I have chosen to say ‘Joyous,’ rather than ‘Happy’ Mother’s Day. ‘Happy,’ by definition, is a fleeting emotion. It is fickle, often here and, without warning, gone again. And, as I have come to learn, many people do not feel happy on Mother’s Day.

‘Joy,’ by the definition I am choosing, is the deeply held spirit of acceptance and contentment, which is present even when the circumstances we find ourselves in do not make us happy. Deep in our hearts we may feel sadness, but we know it, too, is fleeting. We know we will find a higher place of this acceptance within, realizing that we were given a precious gift that we can choose to savor, rising above the darkness that may remain.

I know that I was given a precious gift in my mother, and I had her here for almost 42 years. Gail had her for 48; Suzanne had her for 37. We know how lucky we were.

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I am celebrating the day with one of my three sons, and my delightful mother-in-law as well. I know that all my children are always in my heart, even if they aren’t with me today. And that gift is enough for today.

I know, too, that my mother is in my heart, more deeply every day. And that gift is enough for every day of the year.

My hope for you this Mother’s Day is that you know both happiness and joy, no matter what your circumstances are. If you need it, I hope the healing power of time is with you, as it is with us.

JOYOUS MOTHER’S DAY–HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TOO

One of my favorite pictures of our mom with Suzanne’s daughter, Julia.

CRAZY CAT LADIES

When my son Joel was about 12, our neighbor Sue asked me if he would be interested in cat-sitting for her. I asked him, and he asked me how many cats she had.

“Just one,” I said.

“That’s good,” he said. “Because if she had a bunch, she would be a crazy cat lady.”

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I didn’t think I ever really wanted a cat, although I did state in a recent blog that perhaps, I was closer to getting one than ever before. Somehow, with age, I was becoming softer toward cats, and I maybe I would get one someday.

We grew up with multiple cats on the farm, and they were just that: farm cats. They stayed outside, reproduced and gave birth outside; lived and died outside. If I were to get a cat, it would be an outside cat.

In January, a gray tiger-striped cat showed up at our back door. I didn’t see it; I heard it. My head was in the refrigerator, and at the very same moment I was smelling the milk to determine that it was indeed a few days sour, I heard the meowing at the back door.

Here’s your sign.

I gave the milk to the cat, and the saga began.

In honor of my love for all things Abilene and Eisenhower, I wanted to name her Mamie. My husband, however, with his unique sense of humor, did me one better: Katleen.

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We had many farm cats, but none as memorable as Goldie. She was the matriarchal family farm feline; having given birth to eighty-some kittens, at our last count. She had one back leg accidentally shortened by a farm mower, but this didn’t stop her. She even went missing several weeks, and we all missed her. I had a dream one night she came back, and the next morning she did. She disappeared another time, and she never came back. Without providing too much detail, we found proof that she was gone forever.

I remember that Suzanne had a favorite farm cat she named Ashley. I also remember that she dressed her up in doll clothes. Suzanne doesn’t have a cat now, but she says she would like one again someday. When she lived in Osborne near our parents, she had Donnie and Salem. When Gail’s kids were younger, they had a housecat: Bojangles. When they found out Bojangles was female, she became Belle Jingles. She hasn’t had a cat since, but hasn’t ruled out another one someday.

Our parents had a very special cat that first belonged to Suzanne. Blackie was adopted by the wonderful people who moved into their house, because she refused to leave. (The Luckiest Black Cat, August 23rd, 2020).

Katleen became a shop cat; my husband’s workshop became her new home. It was heated, and she was happy there. We were happy to have her there, too. She was a nice cat, very friendly. Clearly, she had been loved. No one local claimed her, and she didn’t show any desire to leave us. She was clean and tidy, using the litter box without any training.

In short order, Katleen became pregnant. Knocked up. With kittens. This wasn’t what we signed up for, but, recalling how farm cats take care of this business without any help, I wasn’t worried. She would simply give birth on her own terms. She would take care of the kittens until they were weaned, and we would find homes for them, just like we did with the dozens of farm cats that were born. Easy peasy. Mother Nature would be the only midwife and nurse she needed.

Katleen continued to grow; appearing to be ready any moment, but she just kept growing. And growing.

On Tuesday, April 13th, I went in the shop early in the morning to check on her, just like I had every morning lately. She didn’t spring off her favorite chair to her food bowl, like she usually did. She had been known to sneak around behind the workbench, prowling in and out of the nooks and crannies. She always showed up, so I knew she was in there somewhere. I looked around, but didn’t see her. Then, I heard it: a tiny little mew. Not a big meow, but the tiny little voice of a new born kitten. I traced the sound, and found it coming from behind the workbench, behind the trashcan. I didn’t move it; I knew it wasn’t my place. I needed to leave them alone; I would be a hindrance to what happens naturally, without the need for human intervention.

When I came home that afternoon, I decided it was time to take a look. It was feeding time, and I knew she would be hungry. Like a steak dinner for a new mother in the hospital, I opened a can of tuna for her. I didn’t hear any more mews; perhaps they were all resting. However many there were. Four-five is an average size litter, I found out soon thereafter. I pulled the trashcan out, and found her nest:

She had apparently drug plastic bags back there, knowing she would need something between her and the floor. She got up and went right to the tuna in her dish. It was relatively warm, but I knew her babies needed something softer than the plastic bags on the concrete floor. Hearing Mom’s advice in my head–don’t touch the kittens when they are new, the mother won’t like your scent on her kittens, I put on rubber gloves and put them on a softer bed of rugs and old towels. Katleen didn’t mind. She was hungry; gobbling her food. She did turn her head and look behind her a few times as she ate to check on her babies. She was doing well; the kittens were doing well. All seven of them. The Magnificent Seven–just like our mom called us. They looked like little mice, squirming and wriggling, but always heaping themselves together on a pile. I tucked them all in (figuratively speaking) and left them alone with each other for the night.

All eight felines were doing well the next morning. By afternoon, however, Katleen had stopped eating. She wasn’t interested. And, there was no water gone from her dish. I thought this was strange, but I learned from local experts that she may need a day to rebound. We gave her that day.

She didn’t bounce back. By Thursday morning, all her food and water remained. She was minimally responsive, but lied quietly and nursed her babies. She was losing a bit more afterbirth, and the smell coming from her was awful. My neighbor Sue–the not-crazy-cat-lady I mentioned in the first paragraph, was very concerned. I was, too, but in my state of denial, I heard myself say “She’s a tough farm cat. She’ll be okay, just like all your farm cats from years past.” But deep down, my voice of reason said: “She’s not okay.” I knew of a great local vet from a friend’s recommendation and he wanted to see her right away. Sue, being the stellar neighbor and friend she is, stepped in and stepped up to take her in, because I had to get to work. We loaded up Mama and her babies–the vet said to bring them along, but the babies came right back home.

She went into surgery shortly thereafter to remove her uterus, as it was “full of gunk” from the placentas that didn’t pass, and this material was becoming toxic to her. She was given a 50/50 shot at survival. She wouldn’t have made it much longer if he hadn’t performed surgery, he said.

“This is rare,” the vet told me on the phone when I called that afternoon. “She made it through surgery, and she is starting to wake up. We’ll know in the morning if she’s okay. If she survives, she may not produce enough milk right away, and they may still need to be supplemented.”

He kept her overnight. Sue had brought the kittens back, and jumped right into lifesaving mode. She procured the necessary powdered formula, made two trips back into town to get the right supplies, and, with her partner Rick, they syringe-fed the first feeding. More would need to follow every two hours until midnight, then about every four hours.

My husband was at work, and I got another patient added to my list before we could come home and launch into kitten caregiving. This was not turning out to be a good day, but my faith in my local circle of humanity would soon be enriched.

When we both got home, we went across the road to Sue’s house. She had a highly efficient system set up, and showed us how it worked. We all jumped in and got in the groove of the next feeding.

It was about four o’clock, and they would need to stay on this schedule until about midnight, according to the vet’s recommendations. Then, every four hours would suffice.

This schedule, however, would be daunting for all four of us together, let alone any one of us. I knew it wasn’t feasible for me, as sleep is my highest priority after ten p.m., it is my lifesaving medicine.

Enter Annie–Angel Annie, as she deserves to be called. She came highly recommended from a friend, and she was home from college just a few miles down the road. She loved cats, and was up all night anyway, she said, as many college students are. She came over with her dad, completed Sue’s crash course in syringe-feeding two-day old kittens, and took them home for the night. We were in one-day-at-a-time mode.

God bless her.

I called the vet at 8 a.m., hoping and praying for good news. He had it. Katleen was awake, recovering well and eating. We could pick her up anytime.

God bless him.

This left the weekend. The weekend we had planned to go to Kansas City to celebrate my birthday, which was Saturday. We had big plans with friends, and taking care of seven kittens and their mama–as lovable as they all are– was not in my plan.

Enter more angels. Mark’s brother and his wife agreed to take all eight cats, at least for the weekend. They knew that they would likely need to be fed with a syringe, or, if they took it, a bottle with a small nipple. They stepped up and accepted the challenge.

Moments after the reunion–Mama didn’t miss a beat.

Mama and her babies were seamlessly reunited, and they all appeared happy to be back together. We delivered the eight felines, and were able to hit the road for Kansas City by noon, as planned.

God bless them.

They kept us updated via text and videos/pictures; all eight cats were hanging in there. Even the lighter-colored runt–Slim, as they affectionately named him/her.

When they got up for a 3 a.m. feeding, there were five kittens in the box, and no mama cat. They searched the house for about half an hour, but no luck. Knowing they were somewhere in their house, and the other kittens were fed and quiet, they went back to bed. In the morning, he found Mama and the two biggest kittens hiding in the back of his closet. She had apparently separated them from the smaller kittens, likely instinctively knowing that the bigger ones may compromise the smaller one’s ability to get enough milk. She knew what she was doing. He put them all back together, and she separated them again.

We arrived Sunday afternoon to pick them up. They were all doing well, and only one–Slim–appeared to need extra milk that morning. And, when they tried, Mama cat wasn’t too happy about it. She apparently wanted them to know she had it under control.

The spring weather still wasn’t very springy last week, as evidenced by the snowfall Tuesday. I don’t ever remember snow like this after my birthday.

So, instead of returning them to the shop–it was warm but not as warm as the house, we welcomed them into our guest bedroom. I set them up in a cardboard box on one side of the bed when we got home, and within ten minutes, Mama had relocated them to a spot under the bed. They stayed there for a while, but then Slim, who has wandered away since day one,

tried to wander away again. I put them back in the box on the other side of the bed, as far away from the door as possible. They have stayed there since. I tried to help Slim along with a supplement when we got home, but again, Mama got mad. I took this as a sign she did indeed have it under control, so I let Mama cat and Mother Nature rule.

Now, one week later as I write, it’s apparent that she did indeed have it under control. All seven kittens are growing, eyes are open, and they don’t scream out much, if at all. They nurse, and fall asleep satisfied in their pile.

She is eating and drinking well, and producing ample milk. The kittens are contained in a cardboard box, but not for long. They will be exploring their world on their own very soon. Mama gets out and naps alone sometimes, and enjoys roaming around outside for a bit every day.

We left the house overnight last night to hang out with the grandkids, and with Sue checking in on them several times. They continue to thrive.

It has taken a village to do what one creature normally does. If not for the help of Sue and Rick, the fine folks at Sunflower Veterinary Clinic in Minneapolis, Kansas, Tori–a local vet-tech in-training, Angel Annie, Mark’s brother and his wife and anyone else who played a role, these eight creatures likely wouldn’t be with us still. Mother Nature is infinitely wiser than any human, even when we think we know it all. Our efforts to help when they weren’t necessary were well-intentioned, and we didn’t yet know what was necessary for their survival, and what wasn’t. I like to think we did the best we could, and we did keep them alive. Remember, we are not cat people. At least, we didn’t used to be.

We went from a “no animals in the house” policy, to “we have eight cats in our guest bedroom.” Secretly, I think both Gail and Suzanne are jealous, although they would never admit it. I offered them each a kitten, but they politely declined. At this time, I think all seven kittens are spoken for. That is, if we can let go of them. We are both feeling a little attached to Slim, perhaps his/her underdog/undercat status has created a soft spot within us.

For his valiant and selfless efforts, we gave Mark’s brother the privilege of naming these kittens, and while Slim and Wolfman are perfect for the two smallest ones, and Shaq and Barkley are perfect for the two largest ones–that’s all the further he got, I have been thinking of them as our parents’ Magnificent Seven: Gary, Gail, David, John, Kathleen, Suzanne and Ryan.

And, in our parent’s litter of seven, I was the runt. Still am. Perhaps that’s why I feel a special bond with Slim. And, according to my son’s definition in the first paragraph, I am now an official Crazy Cat Lady.