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Posts Tagged ‘Theresa’

Just west of the intersection of 52nd and College Avenue in Indianapolis you will see a new facade. It’s nothing flashy, but the sign had caught my attention recently. It says, Garuda Indonesian Restaurant. Like this:

Hailed as Indiana’s very first Indonesian cuisine, we were excited to try it out. “Oooh, the Spice Islands!” and so on.

So we did.

Let me first say, don’t attempt to park in Garuda’s impossibly tiny parking lot. Even if you do get a spot, it’s not easy getting back out onto 52nd street from it. It’s much, much easier to keep driving about 50 feet or so to Broadway, where parking is plentiful and just a short jaunt to the door.

The inside of Garuda is put together well. The walls are painted in rich, dark colors, and the decor is not bad. I liked the painted brick floor, but I didn’t like how there is no back wall, and you can see straight into the kitchen from every seat in the house. Overall the cozy space gives a generally classy feel.

During our visit we were one of only two parties dining at Garuda. We were seated immediately and the owner, Peter Oomkes, sat down with us to explain the menu since we were completely unfamiliar with Indonesian cuisine. That was a plus.

We ordered two appetizers, Tofu Lumpa and Vegetable Satay. But first, they brought out Krupuk, which is a kind of spongy fried shrimp cracker. I didn’t care for the taste of the cracker, but it did come with a spicy peanut dipping sauce that was quite good.

The Lumpa, a type of spring roll, was tasty, though more reminiscent of a hash brown than a spring roll, in my opinion and experience. The veggie Satay was like a miniature shish-ke-bob, and was also tasty, though not amazing.

For our entrees we ordered the Bami Goreng (noodles and mixed vegetables), Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice with vegetables, and chicken), and Kare Opor (Indonesian chicken curry).

The Bami Goreng (above) was, I think, the most flavorful dish. I’m a little disappointed that they used dumpling egg noodles instead of an Asian noodle. I would be curious to know how the taste would change if traditional noodles had been used. I only tried a bite of this, but Theresa ate the entire thing and reported that it was good.

Now would be a good time to point out that the portions at Garuda are rather small. I prefer this because I don’t like having leftovers or wasting what I can’t eat. However, anyone with a bigger appetite might consider ordering two entrees.

My entree was Nasi Goreng. The presentation of this dish is perfect for me: separate little piles of every component, ready to be mixed and matched however I please in each bite. How did they know that’s how I like to eat? Maybe I have Control Freak written all over my face, I dunno. At any rate, my little pile of rice, little pile of chicken, little pile of veggies and my egg kept me occupied for the short time it took me to scarf the whole thing down. My only complaint? This is the most bland meal I have ever eaten. Apparently Peter Oomkes missed his latest shipment from the Spice Islands. The tiny dusting of soy sauce atop my rice pile was the only added flavor. Of course, Peter did point out to me that I could add flavor with the two pots of sweet sauce and hot sauce that were on the table from the beginning, but I didn’t want either, I wanted spices. Luckily bland food tends to be very palatable to me so I didn’t really care too much so long as I wasn’t going hungry.

I also tried a bite of the Kare Opor. It was very curry-y. Jeff reported it as being a very bland curry, and the chicken very dry. He mixed in the spicy peanut sauce that we both liked in order to add flavor to the dish.

So, the food is bland. That was a disappointment. As for the service, well…it wasn’t horrible. There were some things that were left out here and there, and getting enough plates to share our appetizers was a challenge, but those aren’t things that can make or break a meal. The worst part of the service was that one person would get their entree, then ten minutes later the next person would get theirs, and so on. If Theresa and I had been polite and waited for everyone to get their food before we began, then our food would have been cold by the time the curry rolled out.

I understand that the kitchen was short staffed. I could easily tell this because the chef was cooking about 15 feet from our table with no wall between us. But really, considering that there were about six people in the dining room, they are simply going to have to step up their production efforts in order to run a successful restaurant.

Overall, we decided as a group that, if we were going to spend $10-15 per entree on another dinner anytime soon, we would choose from a number of other places before we chose Garuda. Viet Bistro, India Garden, Thai Cafe: all these places close by offer a LOT more bang for your buck. Larger portions, amazing flavors, variety, hard-earned popularity, and variety—

all these things Garuda has not.

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One fine day last summer, we were roaming around downtown Cincinnati on a trip to visit Jeff’s sister, looking for something to entertain us. Downtown Cincy isn’t always the most happening place, you know. While passing by some store fronts, a display of brightly designed skateboards caught Jeff’s eye, and he beckoned us back for a look. We were pleasantly surprised, and looked for the name of the store: Harper Studios. Hmmm. We tentatively ventured indoors, and were greeted by a small gallery space packed with art that instantly won us over.

Of course, the first thing I noticed was that everything was animals. Then, I noticed the incredibly unique minimalist style and the vivid colors. Things just kept getting better and better. These weren’t just paintings of animals, they were works dripping with personality and insight, full of charm. It was impossible not to smile as I recognized the quirky little habits of all the wildlife I love personified in these flat, two-dimensional images. Geometry and nature were fused into one medium which was guaranteed to win me over. We left with a catalogue of Charley Harper’s works, and kept coming back to enjoy the fun images time and time again that weekend.

Last Christmas, I had the great fortune of receiving not one, but three Charley Harper prints! They seem to blend in naturally with my decor and color scheme, and I never get tired of admiring them. Thank you Ang, Trese, and Jeff!

So who is this Charley Harper guy, and what is his studio doing hiding out in downtown Cincinnati?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Charley Harper was born and raised on the family farm in West Virginia, where he no doubt developed his keen perception of the quirks of nature. He left home to attend the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where he met his wife and fellow artist Edie, and where he stayed on for years as a teacher. Eventually he worked in the commercial art world before opening his very own studio. He became immensely popular before he died in 2007, and his works can be seen in books, posters, and displays across the country. Since I fell in love with Harper’s gallery last summer, I’ve been more aware of his works popping up in random places. Walking through the education building at the Indianapolis Zoo, a Charley Harper print would catch my eye. Perusing photos of interior design spaces, I get excited when I notice a Charley Harper book artfully placed on a coffee table. And of course, at the Cincinnati Zoo there is a wealth of Charley Harper waiting to be noticed by the zoo-goer in the know.

What is so appealing about Charley’s works? Well, it has something to do with the way he takes an impossibly dense natural situation, and breaks it down with mathematical simplicity into a scene that instantly reflects the complex beauty of nature. Each image tells a story. As Charley used to explain it: “I don’t try to put everything in, I try to leave everything out.”

You’ll just have to see for yourself what we mean…

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It may be 90 degrees outside with the summer solstice fast approaching, but I’m already looking forward to winter.

Why?

Reason #1: New hats that transform me into a variety of whimsical creatures. Thanks Ang and Trese!

Reason #2: These bad babies. Thanks Grandma!

I’m sure to be stylish, warm, and comfortable all year long!

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Although I was not successful in my attempt to curb my Facebook usage last month, April turned out to be pretty astounding in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I did manage to accomplish a few of the things on my list, but the real joy came in unexpected packages.

April started off with a wonderful surprise gift. Jeff gave me a very special Marie-sized guitar, which he had carefully restrung so that I can play left-handed. I consider this to be perhaps the most thoughtful and generous gift I have ever received, as it includes not only the physical object (which is quite beautiful), but comes complete with a committment of the time and effort and patience that will doubtless be needed to teach me to play. School and work and life in general has prevented me from having the time to do any more than learn a few chords, though I did manage to learn my first melody, which is the intro to Tom Petty’s “Honeybee.” Needless to say I am very much looking forward to spending the summer aqcuiring my new musical skill.

So, one thoughtful turn deserves another, right? I decided to forego my studies for a night (an ENTIRE night!) and give my creative muscles a good flexing. Early one morning I stopped by Jeff’s to leave a special message. That message started with a splash of hearts..

…which climbed up the furniture..

..swarmed the windows..

..passed the friendly paper squid..

..and finally rested in the doorway, ready to greet as cheerfully as possible.

Though quite exhausting for 12 solid hours’ worth of cutting and taping, I think the results were well worth the effort!

My other unplanned April adventure came with a pretty epic road trip. Angela, Theresa and I drove to San Francisco, California, making the trip in just two days, with another two days to spend sightseeing and helping Ang get settled as well as she could in her new apartment there. Though the photos taken were numerous, I will post just one here which I think does a pretty good job of summing up the grandeur and beauty and adventure contained in those four short days that we were lucky enough to get to spend together.

Even with the coming of May and the end of the spring semester, my life has not become any less eventful. This week has been my very first working as an intern for WildCare clinic in Bloomington. The experience has been both overwhelming and wonderful so far. I wouldn’t even be able to recount all the different species I have seen in the past few days alone. And throughout it all the staff at the clinic have been amazingly patient and eager to let each of the interns gain the fullest experience possible. Several times I have had a baby raccoon or an opossum joey suddenly placed in my unexpecting hands, much to my utter delight.

I’ve learned so much about wildlife in the past two weeks that I can’t believe I ever thought I knew anything before now! I feel extremely privileged to be soaking it all up firsthand. On Monday I learned that opossum joeys are very fond of climbing on my braided hair, and that they have tiny, alligator-like mouths too big for their bodies, that can clamp down relentlessly on said braid, rendering me quite helpless. I’ve also learned that baby raccoon urine has a very distinct smell, especially when it is dropping in copious amounts onto the top of my shoe. Just today I learned how to sex a turtle, and how to get a starving nuthatch fledgling to eat. (How? you ask. Simple. Take a waxworm, cut it in half, heat in the microwave for a couple of seconds, soak in warm water, and serve. Num num.)

Unless you know me well I don’t think I can adequately relate just how delightful it is for me to be able to recount the past week and remember all the animals: the noisy starling fledglings, the robin, the box turtle, the coyote pup, the baby opossums and baby skunk and baby raccoons, the beautiful fawn, the clever crows, the tiny helpless hummingbird, the countless baby bunnies and the owls and the crazy squirrels. –it is going to take me most of the summer just to get used to the novelty of it all, though I never expect to stop being delighted with each and every new patient I have the good fortune to encounter.

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Christmas Eve, 1987. Reading, Pennsylvania.

Our house in Reading had four bedrooms. I have no recollection of my parents’ bedroom. I slept in a small room on the first floor; Angela and Theresa in the bunk and I in my own little wooden bed with the plastic-coated mattress. Upstairs was a finished attic space which Jennifer and Cindy shared.

Also upstairs was an unfinished attic space which housed the boys. They always seemed to get the short end of the deal when it came to divvying up the bedrooms, but they never seemed to mind. I remember their room, the boards on the walls, and the orange and brown plaid sheets on the beds. If I hung around for long enough there, one of them would give me candy just to get me to go away.

On Christmas Eve we were sent upstairs to wait for Santa. It was a family tradition to open presents on Christmas Eve, which meant that Santa would appear at a pre-appointed time during which we kids would all have to gather in the upstairs room waiting while he dished out the goods. That evening I lay on Jennifer’s bed and watched out the window for Santa and his reindeer. I could see Rudolph’s nose blinking far away on a distant hill. It never seemed to get any closer, but I knew it was Rudolph.

Mom and Dad called to us that Santa had left, and I rushed down the steps, completely convinced that I had just missed him.

I sat on the floor in front of the console tv and ripped into my presents. I remember quite clearly opening a large box which contained my brand new, shiny red tricycle. Unlike the big trikes my brothers would race in the basement, this one was just my size. And since I was the youngest this meant that no one else would be allowed to use it. I relished this.

Christmas Eve was the one day of the year when we were allowed to stay up as late as we wanted to play with our new toys and eat candy. Somehow this never seemed to work out so well as I dreamed it would, as I inevitably ended up being carried off to bed, having fallen fast asleep after a mere hour or two of celebration.

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Merry Christmas!

May you celebrate with such joyful abandonment

that you have to be carried off to bed.

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Nostalgia

In my earliest memory I am two and a half, sitting in the cab of a pickup truck next to Theresa. Mom is driving, and has just realized that she has left the cap of the gas tank at the gas station. We turn around and head back.

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At three years I am standing at the foot of the stairs at our house on 47th Street. I look on silently as a wet, steady stream cascades down the wooden steps. My eyes follow a trail of broken glass to where Theresa stands at the top of the stairs, gazing down at her prized possession lost: a giant pickle jar once lovingly filled with river water. Tadpoles, shells, slimy pebbles now lie strewn about and encroaching upon the front entryway.

She looks upset.

The musty smell makes me think camping: plastic mugs hung on tree branches, a hammock. For that split second time halts, and we both stare dumbfounded at the scene, anticipating Mom’s frantic investigation.

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A tornado came through the neighborhood. We went to the basement, and someone set me on top of a tall dresser near a window. A distraction occurred and for a brief moment that seemed interminable I was stranded alone on my perch. I turned to the window to watch the branches falling outside.

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icytree

It’s the time of year when everything seems to get a little harder. Days are shorter. It’s easier to wake up in the dark thinking that you have hours left to sleep, only to realize it’s about that time: Time to get up into the drafty air, waiting for your body to readjust and stop aching with cold. It’s harder to find enough clothes to wear; harder to want to walk out that door and shiver in the car until the heater warms up.

For some of us this time of year begins earlier than for others. And I’m not talking about a difference in climate, I’m talking about difference in bodily qualities. Studies have been done which indicate that the way fat is distributed in a persons body can make her more susceptible to feeling cold. Those of us (typically women) who are designed to have a higher core body temperature are often the ones responsible for the cold hands and feet under the covers. Of course factors such as diet, activity levels, and even sleep patterns can also mess around with our ability to tolerate cold. I come from a long line of women with poor circulation, who all know that winter really begins sometime in September, and lasts full on til that point in May or thereabouts when we can walk about in our own homes without that chilly undercurrent tensing our bodies.

And yet, for all the moaning and heartache that occurs the first night when it drops below sixty degrees, there is a certain charm inherent in this darker half of the year which is sometimes easy to overlook. Since this year’s summer equinox I’ve been compiling a list in my head of all the reasons I can conceive to look forward to the cold weather. Most of these are highly personal (I know not everyone has a dragon hat to anticipate wearing), but my hope is that everyone will be able to appreciate and perhaps chip in with some reasons of their own.

  • As mentioned above, my latest favorite part of the season is the opportunity to wear my dragon hat. It’s a blue wool cap that Theresa bought for me in Atlanta last December; complete with flaps to cover the ears, fleece lining, and a silly cartoon dragon face knitted onto the top. This thing has horns. It’s delightfully preposterous, which is of course right up my alley.
  • There’s something unmistakably nostalgic about the first day you wake up, walk straight to the thermostat and crank it up to 70, waiting for the furnace to kick on. The gentle white noise of the warm air being pushed through the heater ducts is soothing. I like to curl up on a heater grate with a blanket reading or doing whatever, while experiencing the intermittent extremes of hot and cold. Heater kicks on, everything is good, you start sweating, blanket comes off, butt gets a tad too toasty, adjustments are made, heater stops running, blanket is reapplied, and you sit patiently for the process to begin again.
  • Over and over again I hear the refrain “Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday!” It seems that everyone loves getting together with family members for food food and more food. Personally, the cold dark days get me looking forward to Christmas and all the loot I’m gonna rake in! Hey I love family and the spirit of giving, but making my Christmas wish list sure makes a chilly night seem brighter.
  • I adore soup. I eat it year-round. I will order it from a restaurant on the sunniest, hottest day of summer and won’t even think twice about whether or not this is appropriate. I will eat it any time of day. I don’t care. I love soup. And soup in the winter time is even better. The best part about wintertime soup is when you have to stop eating to take off your sweater mid-way through.
  • As much as I love soup, I hate doing dishes. But, standing at the sink with my hands plunged into a basin of hot soapy water wile watching snowflakes drift past the kitchen window really does approach enjoyableness.
  • Cuddling is good year-round, but in the wintertime it’s phenomenal. Even kitties think so. Around this time of year I typically get an extra 20 or so pounds of living breathing fur-covered heating pads dotting the duvet and keeping my toes warm.
  • I read once that people who are holding warm drinks are more trusting and “warm” toward others. I know that for me one of the things I look forward to most around October is bringing home a jug of apple cider and some cinnamon sticks to warm on the stove. I can’t get enough of it, and it makes the house smell great. Take a swig before you head out in the morning and maybe scraping the frost from the windshield won’t be so awful. On a side note, I also read once that bumblebees seek out warmer flowers because they like warm drinks too!
  • ‘Tis the season for watching all the classic Christmas movies–you know, Love Actually, Christmas Vacation, While You Were Sleeping, etc!
  • At my house, I breathe a sigh of relief for the time of year when the wildlife begins to settle down. Not only are my own cats much more interested in staying indoors and sleeping (instead of scratching at windows to be let in, or meowing to be let out all night, or bringing in their various catches of the day), but my raccoon and opossum friends are more interested in staying outdoors, which is good! I’m getting used to controlling the wildlife traffic flow in my house, but these days there are fewer nights interrupted by ravenous coons in the kitchen.
  • Just as getting out in the spring to plant flowers and rev up that mower is simply joyous, I find much contentment in these days when my lawn doesn’t need to be mowed, and nothing needs to be watered. I do still need to rake, but once that’s done I won’t have to lift a finger for yard work for another four or five months. Hallelujah.
  • This semester I am driving downtown to school at least 7 times a week. I take the same route every time, and every time I get stuck at the same streetlight wedged between a liquor store and one of those scary looking “churches” tucked away in an abandoned looking mini mall. This corner hosts some of the scariest-looking people I have seen in Indianapolis. They mosey about this intersection, stumbling between cars and asking for money on the perpetual trek between the liquor store and the front steps of this place of sketchy worship where they perch with their brown paper bags in hand. Perhaps they are less fortunate, but I certainly am relieved when the cooler weather drives them back to their own homes or perhaps just back into the liquor store and away from my driver’s side window.
  • I’ve gotten to a point where it’s difficult to sit at home and study if I do not have a fire going. A fire is almost a human presence in the house. It warms but it also cures loneliness. I don’t know how this works but it works for me.
  • A change in clothing is a big part of winter (obviously). Stretchy pants are my favorite part of winter clothing. I actually enjoy the cooler spring and fall days when I can pair a dress or skirt with a pair of leggings and feel super cozy and cute. And in the bitterest of cold days, a pair of stretchy pants beneath a pair of jeans goes a really, really long way toward warding off the miserable cold. And it just feels comforting!
  • Everyone loves a snow day. Come on. There’s no summer day on the beach that can compare to that dark blustery morning when you check the listings and find out that you, my friend, get to climb back in bed, not worry about work or school, and spent the day under a huge pile of blankets.
  • Reason #15 that I look forward to winter? –Huge piles of blankets.
  • I am an avid tree admirer. I can’t help it, I just notice nice trees and like to point them out to other people. Trees without leaves are especially enjoyable, because then you can truly appreciate the beauty of an oak or a sycamore with their unique forms that might otherwise go unnoticed.  And no one can deny the beauty of a snow-covered or ice-glazed tree.
  • I don’t know how many people spend countless uncomfortable hours in the summertime shivering in frigid, super-air-conditioned restaurants and grocery stores, movie theaters, and classrooms. I sure do. In the wintertime I don’t have to worry about bringing a jacket to a date on a 90-degree day. I don’t have to stash a sweater in my backpack, or feel silly toting extra layers with me when I go shopping. The day those a/c units are shut down sure is a relief to me!

I could go on, but I think I get my general idea across, right? Without winter I wouldn’t get to look forward to the coming of spring and greenery and warm weather. But even more importantly, without winter I wouldn’t get to look forward to–well, winter.

Dragon Hat

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Nothing Else Matters

Young Smeagol

When I started this blog I swore to myself that I would not make it into a cat blog. An animal blog, maybe, but not a cat blog. However, there is someone who’s story I suddenly feel compelled to tell…

In the summer of 2004, when I was a mere 20 years old, my then-husband Jeff came walking through the door of our apartment cradling a tiny gray ball of fuzz in the palm of his hand. That tiny gray ball of fuzz was a present to me.

smeagolbaby3

I had been hinting that summer that I wanted a gray and white cat, but the thing he showed to me was not what I had in mind. She was all gray as far as I could see, no wait, there was a tiny patch of white just below her chin. Well, I thought, so technically this is a gray and white cat. And now, technically, this is MY gray and white cat.

My mild disappointment melted into a mild apprehension. Jeff already had two cats, so I had been initiated into that world almost two years prior…but a kitten? I had never seen such a small cat, and I certainly didn’t know what to do with it. I was a bit awed by this fuzzy warm creature with the buggy eyes and a round pink mouth. So in the beginning I would set her on the floor and watch her. She was certainly small (too small), and kind of bobbled around on the floor. She enthusiastically struggled to maneuver various small balls around the carpet. Her ears were huge. Her toes were extremely pink.

smeagolbabysleep

We took a while to name her. I wanted to name her Athena because she had beautiful gray eyes, and I had once read a version of The Odyssey in which Athena is described as the Grey-eyed Goddess. My second name choice was Toiga (think “tiger”, but with an Austin Powers accent). At some point, one night one of us spontaneously blurted out, “Why don’t we call her Smeagol?” And the name just seemed to fit. Even so, Smeagol spent the next two years ofher life responding to the name Baby Kitty.

kittenovershoulder

Baby Kitty quickly realized that I was Mom. She took this so literally, in fact, that she could have spent hours trying to suckle on my earlobes. She had clearly been taken away from her biological mother before it was wise or necessary. At any rate, she decided that she must have sprang from my loins, and spent the majority of her life trying to convince me of this fact.

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The first night with my new pet, I didn’t know how to go about the sleeping situation. I pulled a chair next to the bed, fixed it up with a blanket, and set Smeagol down to sleep. For the first night she stayed on the chair, but after that she wouldn’t have it. It was on the bed with Mom and Dad, or it was nothing. Not only that, but she would spent countless hours trying to burrow under the covers so she could try to suckle on me. For many weeks I slept (or tried to sleep) with the covers pulled tightly over my head and tucked around me like a shroud.

There were some times in those early months that Smeagol even made me cry. This was my first kitten, and I had no idea how much trouble a kitten could be. She liked to play, she liked to bite, she would curl up in my lap, look up into my eyes, then swipe at my hair swift and strong with her needle-like claws. Occasionaly she’d get a nice swipe at my face or my eyes.

meandsmeagol04

I lost sleep. I lost some sanity (what little of it I had at the time). But I had gained in Smeagol what I later referred to as my familiar. If I ever existed as an animal, I would exist as Smeagol. She followed me from room to room, watching me as if trying to learn how to do everything that I was doing. As Smeagol matured it became apparent that our personalities were similar. She was a diminutive, quiet cat. She rarely imposed herself on anyone, and it wasn’t hard to forget about her presence in a room. She was manipulative. She could go from sweet to sneaky then back again whenever she pleased.

debshow 005

Of course, Smeagol was more of a trouble-maker than I ever was in my youth. She would frequently tease the older cats, and her big bunny brother Boo Radley. One day I lost Smeagol in the house. I spend hours looking for her, frantically calling Jeff at work and wondering where I could have possibly misplaced a few pounds of kitten. I gave one last look under the couch and spotted a small bulge in the lining covering the bottom of the couch. I reached under, and sure enough that bulge was soft and warm to the touch and began to purr. I still don’t know how she got in there, but she was clearly comfortable and not intent on coming out anytime soon. In my new motherhood I was anxious to have her out where I could see her, so I carefully propped up the end of the couch and cut a slit in the lining in order to extract her. She just looked up at me and blinked, as if I had disturbed her sleep for nothing. After that I found her sleeping in the lining of the couch on occasion, but as long as I knew she could get in and out easily then I was content to let her rest there where it was dark and safe.

smeaginbox010_7

Smeagol became a delight in my little domestic world. She was slim and delicate and could always make me laugh. She began to develop skin problems early on that perplexed us. The scented litter we used caused the pads of her feet to erupt in painful and odiferous sores. Her lips would become swollen and painful. The Lebanon vets were none too helpful, relying mostly on steroid shots and antibiotics to alleviate the symptoms. No one bothered to tell me that plastic food dishes and scented litters could cause allergic reactions in cats. No one even bothered to tell me that steroid shots can shorten the life span of an animal. So Smeagol continued to receive her steroid shots nearly monthly. It wasn’t until years later that I realized these things and was able to adjust our lifestyle to lessen the effects of Smeagol’s allergies. I was angry with the vet for using a method on my cat that could have caused her life to be shortened in the long run.

Sleepbox010

Two years after Smeagol came into my life, it became apparent that we were sharing a feeling of discontent with our environment. By this time we had four cats and one rabbit in the household, and Smeagol was bottom of the totem pole. She was still spunky, but shy around the other cats, and often overpowered and pushed to the background. I had begun to feel pushed to the background as well. I realized that I played more the role of cat, rather than wife, in my own household. I made a nice addition to the apartment and helped make home cozy, but that seemed to be about all I was good for anymore in Jeff’s eyes. So in mid-September of 2006, I took a few clothes and I took Smeagol, and together we moved out. I remember the drive to our new home at my mom’s house. Smeagol meowed and looked at me from her carrier all the way in to Indianapolis. When we exited the highway I let her out, and she curled up in my lap for the rest of the drive. Neither of us knew what lay ahead of us, but really all that mattered was that I had her and she needed me.

I didn’t have a bedroom yet for the first few weeks at Mom’s house. I slept on the floor in the living room, and Smeagol slept on my head. When I stayed up late at night putting my bedroom together she would keep me company. As I slowly adjusted to my new life and surroundings, it became clear that Smeagol was not. Any time that I was home she was there next to me. She wanted to be in my lap, or by my feet, or sitting on a chair next to mine at the computer. She would look at me and yawn, making funny groaning noises. Then she’d yawn again and scratch at Mom’s furniture. She just couldn’t stop yawning, and that’s how I knew she was seriously stressed. I just wasn’t sure what to do about it.

One day in October, I went with my sister Theresa to check out a couple of cats she was interested at the Southside Animal Shelter. I hadn’t intended to get another cat, but I ran into a character that I just couldn’t refuse. Ollie’s story is a good one, but not the right one to tell here and now. In short, he came home with me, he won Smeagol’s heart and her tolerance, and they became (surprisingly) best pals. I was amazed that this cat, who had been cowed in the presence of her former siblings, was now blossoming with the friendship of this new kid who could have been her biological twin.

kittiesinmyroom

papasankids

Oliver and Smeagol became a happy pair. I stopped feeling guilty for leaving to go to school or work. They seemed content to spend the day together lying in the sun on the carpet, lounging on the back of the couch, or cuddling together in the papasan. Eventually, though, it became more and more difficult to keep them contained in the small house. Every chance they got they would dart for the door. We ended up keeping a water bottle by the door just to fend them off so we could come and go. They wanted to see just what was so great about this big outdoors that they watched from the windows.

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One night I got out of film history class late at night and listened to a voicemail that Mom had left me hours before. I had just finished seeing Eraserhead for the first time, and was in the slightly unsound state of mind that only a first viewing of Eraserhead can create. Mom had inadvertently let Smeagol out earlier in the day, and hadn’t realized she was gone until she got back that evening.

My stomach was like a rock. My baby girl was gone, she had never been out before and it was the middle of December and she could be gone forever. I struck out as soon as I got home to find her. I left my mom distraught at the house while I walked the neighborhood at 11pm. I was distraught myself, and livid. When I couldn’t find Smeagol, I stubbornly decided that I would camp out on the porch until she returned. There was no way I was going to let her stay out all night, even if I had to do so myself. I grabbed a sweater and a blanket, and took my stand.

It wasn’t long before I got cold and lonely. I texted my friend to tell him what had happened, and he took the opportunity to come sit with me and wait. I didn’t necessarily want to talk, but I also didn’t want to bury my head and cry in front of this person I had just begun hanging out with. So we began talking, and eventually our voices got louder, and I even laughed a few times, forgetting the situation that was happening. The sound of my laughter drifted to Smeagol’s ears, wherever she had been hiding, and the sound of her tiny, frightened mewing reached my ears from where she was in the neighbor’s yard, with no idea how to get over the fence and back home. I have never been so relieved as when I bundled her up in my arms that night. And I could tell by her ferocious purring that she had never been so relieved either. Everyone in the household was a thousandfold happier to see Smeagol that night—especially Mom. Peace had been restored.

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With the coming of the next spring, I gradually began letting Ollie and Smeagol venture outdoors. At first they were not allowed to leave the porch. Smeagol was very good about this and would stand on the steps looking about. If she stepped off the porch I would give her a warning word, and she would retreat just enough to pacify me. As Ollie boldly tested his boundaries, and finally broke them altogether, I began to be lenient with Smeagol as well. They simply adored lying on the warm concrete sidewalk, or hunkering down in the grass like pretend cheetahs on the prowl. I’ve never seen happier kitties in my life.

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That year, 2007, was a very rough one for me. Extremely rough, in many ways. Smeagol always seemed to know when I was upset. She would visit me on my bed, washing my face and making sure I had a warm body to hold. Wherever I went she would follow, smiling at me with her eyes and talking in her funny half-meow/squeak language. I can honestly say that there were several times that year when the thought of not wanting to leave my cats was the only thing that kept me wanting to be alive. I didn’t trust anyone else to know their quirks and be able to care for them like I could. If it hadn’t been for that, I really don’t know what would have gotten me through my darkest days. Like I said, it was a bad year.

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But in some ways it was a good year as well. Smeagol and Ollie loved their new freedom. We would frequently take walks together around the neighborhood, especially at night. There is a small field of grass behind Mom’s house, and I could watch from the kitchen window as Smeagol and Ollie frolicked in the field. Sometimes at dusk I would catch a glimpse of them hiding in the grass, watching eagerly as the wild rabbits emerged from their burrows. I think they desperately wanted to try to catch one, but were stunned by the size and boldness of the rabbits. At this time neither Smeagol nor Ollie was any bigger than a rabbit anyway.

The next year, 2008, slowly began to improve. I found a house and I fell in love. I fell in love with the house, that is. The house fit me in a way that most gloves don’t (I have short fingers). I knew that my kids would love it. It took three months of hard work and a hell of a lot of help to fix up that house, but it finally happened. I brought my kids to stay on August 1st of 2008, and they loved it as much as I imagined they would. They had a cat door (a luxurious new creation as far as they could tell), and they had a yard full of cicadas and squirrels and chipmunks and birds to watch and chase. Ollie was the hunter, but Smeagol loved to sit out in the middle of the yard, watching the wildlife around her, and occasionaly talking to it. Now if that is not clear evidence that she is my soul’s feline counterpart, then I don’t know what is.

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Early this year I became determined to solve the mystery of Smeagol’s lifelong skin problems. She was almost constantly scratching and licking, and couldn’t even concentrate on chasing a string without having to stop and address her irritations. I brought her to a dermatologist, she inderwent many troublesome tests, and finally ended up on a drug trial. Smeagol hated the drug trial. She learned that night-time meant medicine time, and she was very good at making herself scarce in order to avoid the dreaded liquid. I had a hell of a time tracking her down each night, as she would make it as difficult as possible by hiding in the most awkward places. She took to scolding me whenever I attempted to extract her, and she shunned me almost constantly throughout the rest of the day. The drug caused her to grow more fur than she had ever had in her lifetime, and she became bold and irritable. She began to chase raccoons away from the house at night. She wasn’t about to take any crap from anyone.

However, the drug was working, and Smeagol improved more than I could have hoped for. Thankfully the drug trial ended and I was able to decrease her dose and switch to a pill, which we both much preferred. It didn’t take long before the healthy Smeagol began to warm up to me again. Since I wasn’t dragging her out of dark corners every night to “torture” her with medicine, she began sleeping close to my bed at night. She renewed her practice of waiting for me every day outside the shower, calling to me every once in a while so that I would hurry up with getting clean and come out and pet her already. She loved to jump up on the sink when I got out, so she could be closer to my face and able to give me kisses. Kisses, for Smeagol, involved gazing at me and chirping until I would bring my face down close to hers so she could rub her gums along my nose. She would do this as many times in a row as I would let her, or until she got so excited that she would accidentally nip my nose, which happened once or twice.

I was certainly glad, these past few months, to have my boon companion back by my side.

artistsmeagol

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Since the beginning of my cats’ lives as Outdoor Cats, I have experienced a moderate anxiety concerning safety. Whenever arriving or leaving home I would subconsciously scan the street, dreading the site of a gray body lying in the road. At times, when I was particularly stressed out, this image would be foremost in my mind, and I would have trouble not allowing myself to dwell on the scenario and how it could play out.

Recently this anxiety had not been a problem for me. I would still give that automatic, subconscious glance upon pulling up in front of my house, or upon walking out to my car, but it rarely occurred to me what I was doing or that I had a real need to worry.

On Thursday morning, however, things were different.

It was shortly after 9am and Scott had walked out the door on his way to work just minutes before. I was scrambling to get ready for work, and headed out the door with my bag and my keys and my sunglasses and a bottle of tea tucked under my arm. I pulled the door closed, scanned, and stopped dead in my tracks. My brain fired a recognition signal. This is it, my brain said, it has finally happened, just as I imagined it to be. A small gray figure, lying in the road just to the south of my house.

My brain had to tell my arms to drop my things. I ran down the steps, and as I did so it registered that Scott had not left. He was sitting in his car and glanced up casually as I was running down the stairs. I gave him a look and a gesture that was supposed to say WHAT HAPPENED???? but he just looked back with confusion. When he saw where I was headed and why, he was right behind me.

The body lay on the far side of the street. As I rushed toward it I could only think “Please let it be Clarence.” I’m sorry to have thought that, but understand that Clarence is the name I have given to the neighborhood stray who happens to be gray with a white patch like my Smeagol and Ollie. I didn’t want it to be one of mine. I approached the body with such tunnel vision that I didn’t notice the broken pink collar lying just a few feet from it. The cat in the road was dead but still very warm. It had been struck in the head, which was not recognizable and which I didn’t want to look at anyway. The damage was not severe, but it was enough that one glance was more than enough. We knelt there over the body and all I could think or say was “Who is it? Who is it? Is it Ollie?” There was no collar. I thought that it couldn’t be one of mine. It must be a neighbor cat. But I thought it might be Ollie. I lifted a back leg, looking for Ollie’s characteristic broken leg from when he was a kitten. That’s when I saw the tiny sores running up the length of the cat’s hind legs. This was my baby girl.

The rest is a blur to me. I stood up upon the recognition, reeling in disbelief. I couldn’t believe that this had happened. I sat down in the road and cried. I remember thinking that she was so warm, her body was so warm that she couldn’t possibly be dead. I thought that there must be some way to bring her back while her body was still warm. She felt so alive. I just sat in the road and cried. No neighbors came out of their houses, and no cars passed on the street. I wouldn’t have noticed if they had.

I don’t remember what happened next. I think I asked Scott to get “a box or something” from the house. When he left I found the pink collar and stuffed it in my pocket. Then I picked up Smeagol who felt so heavy in my hands, and carried her up to the porch steps where I held her and sobbed. It seemed like a really long time before Scott came out with a box. I had very vague thoughts that he might be distraught, but my own overwhelming distress clouding everything else that I could think or feel.

Scott came out on the porch and set down a blue beer box that Smeagol had been fond of sleeping in for the past week. I snapped at him and told him I didn’t want that box, I wanted a different box. I’ve never questioned why that was so important to me, it just was. And somehow, Scott found a different box, a perfectly acceptable box that I could place Smeagol in without wanting to scream in anger.

I went inside and lay on the bed for what seemed like a long time. Scott was somewhere but I didn’t care where. I think he was crying in the other room. My phone rang. Several minutes later I texted Dad and told him what happened. That was all. When Scott came back in the room I said “I don’t know what to do with her.”

After a while we went out to the backyard to open the garage and get two shovels. The movement felt better, but I was still in a daze. We stood there by the garage door with our shovels, just kind of looking at the ground and not knowing where or how to start. Dad showed up and walked back to us. He gave me a very long hug, and helped us get the grave started. Dad and Scott dug a hole by the fence in the backyard. The ground was soft and almost sandy, and the shoveling was easy. I brought Smeagol’s box to the hole, lifted her out and placed her on the dirt. Her fur was already beginning to shed from her body as I petted her those last few times. I placed her in the hole, and gave her her favorite leather belt that Mom had given to her three years ago. It was her favorite string. It was something she would carry with her from room to room, to sleep with or to sit on expectantly, waiting for me to pick it up so she could chase it and jump for it. And lordy could she jump!

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It wasn’t difficult for her to get between four and five feet of air while trying to get at that silly leather braided belt. By now it is in tatters, well worn and played hard thoughout the years. I placed it between her feet and told her goodbye, and we covered up my precious baby girl.

The thought of it still seems unbelievable to me. This day I have had without her seems to be stretching on for eternity. It seems a year since 9am, and yet I don’t have the luxury of having had a year’s worth of healing. I still expect to see her every single time I pull up in front of the house. I still expect her to be rushing up to greet me even as I am stepping out of my car. I expect to hear her insistent squeak-meow, and see her prance just out of my reach when I try to pet her. I still check the faucet every time I pass the bathroom, just to make sure I didn’t leave it running, or that she isn’t sitting in the sink waiting to get a drink. I still look to see her meatloafing on the rug whenever I walk through the dining room. I still look in every box because I expect to see her sleeping there or simply sitting and looking around.

Someone asked me today if I was okay. I said that at this point I wasn’t really worried about being okay. I am not okay, but I am fine with not being okay. I am not letting myself push away or ignore any ounce of this pain. I don’t want to. I want to cry every single time I think of something that I loved about Smeagol that I will never get to see her do again. I want to miss her, and I want to keep missing her. There will never be another like her. No not ever.

RIP baby kitty. Mommy loves you.

Smeaghost

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