The cycle of life…

My kitty Guido has spent the past couple of days coming to work with me at the vet hospital.  He just hasn’t bounced back from this apparent kidney infection the way he should have.  Yesterday, although his kidney enzymes were back down to normal, an ultrasound revealed some fluid in his abdomen.  It was enough to warrant having the radiologist/ultrasonographer come take a closer look.

I have a fairly extensive medical vocabulary but honestly all the details of today’s findings from the ultrasound are kind of a blur.  There was nothing definitive but it seems it is a choice between one fatal disease or another, most likely some form of cancer.   The ultrasonographer said we could do an exploratory to determine the diagnosis for sure but the veterinarian that I have known, worked with and trusted for nearly 25 years said that none of the possible scenarios were good ones and it would be highly likely that we would not wake him up once we found out what was wrong.  We could do it; it was up to me but in the end it seemed rather academic to put him through the stress of surgery at 14-1/2 years of age just to decide which really bad disease he had.

Guido 8-22-13
Guido has lived a good life.  He’s never been to the vet before last Saturday for anything other than routine wellness exams, dental cleanings and the like.  He never missed a meal until this past Saturday morning but it’s clear that his quality of life is not good now.  He’s better than he was on Saturday but not himself.  So, I brought him home to spend one more night and tomorrow I’ll take him to work with me and let him go.

While I am extremely sad I’ve had enough pets and have worked in veterinary medicine long enough to know that one of the kindest things we can do for our beloved animals is to let them go with dignity when it’s time.   We are fortunate that we have the ability to relieve suffering.  I’m grateful for that just as I’m grateful for the life that Guido lived and the joy that he brought to mine.   It is all a part of the cycle of life.  Good kitty, Guido…you will be missed.


My name’s Guido…wanna buy a watch?

I woke up at 4:30 on Saturday morning, ready to get Pippin, my hiking gear and head to Pedernales Falls State Park to catch the sunrise.  Unfortunately, Guido, my 14-1/2 year old cat had other plans.

Guido, who has never missed a meal in his life, was nowhere to be found.  Typically, he is tromping around the bed and over and on top of me whining about being fed.  I called…no Guido.  I searched and finally found him hiding under the bed looking pretty pathetic.  I pulled him out and took him to the laundry room to feed him; he’d have no part of it.  He went and curled up on the sofa and didn’t move.  Hiking trip canceled, a trip to the vet revealed a kidney infection so he was treated with fluids and antibiotics.  His improvement has been slow but he is eating small amounts each meal and drinking–making progress. 

All this has had me looking back over Guido’s life.  He and his littermates were found in a dumpster by a client of ours.  She bottle-fed them until they were about 4 weeks old and then Guido came home with me.  He was a firecracker from the start and earned the nickname, “The Incredible Flying Sarducci Kitty”.  He thought my Doberman, Gretchen was a carnival ride.  She was old and spent a good bit of her time sacked out on her side on the floor.  Guido thought it was great fun to run from her head along her side to her tail and back again.  She tolerated it with great patience but would look at me with this look that said, “Seriously?  You want me to raise another kitten?”

Guido was a thief.  He stole so many things that we used to joke that if he was a human he’d be on a street corner somewhere saying, “Hi, my name’s Guido…wanna buy a watch?”  He stole baby Jesus out of the Nativity scene at Christmas and baby Jesus was never seen again.  My sister came to visit and had some of those little white cheese balls in her suitcase.  The next day they were gone–every single one of them–I found them three or four weeks later underneath the sofa.  He just wanted to play with them.

He was always getting in to something.  My parrot Cowboy learned to say, “Quit that! Put that down!  Stop that!” all from listening to me yell at Guido.  One of his favorite things to do was to chew up AC adaptors.  Back when I actually had a landline I went through three AC adaptors for my phone in a single week.  I finally stopped him by putting heat shrink tubing on the wire.  The trouble was that I had to get fairly large tubing so that it would fit over the plug end of the adaptor.  There was no way that it would shrink down to fit tight against the wire so I ended up with this strange, uneven tube hanging down from my phone to the wall plug.

Guido 8-17-13_02He’s mellowed over the years but he still gets on a tear from time to time, ripping through the house like a 12 lb rocket.  It’s hard to think of him getting old.  I’m grateful for many things when I think of Guido.  First, I’m grateful that he seems to be recovering from this infection.  I’m also grateful for all of the joy and laughs he has given me over the years.  Our pets bring so much to our lives and I’m so grateful for all that Guido has brought to mine.  Good kitty, Guido.


BC Greenbelt 8-17-13_01
The other day a friend of mine posted on his Facebook wall the following status:

__________________ + Gratitude = _____________________.

He got a variety of responses; some were meant to be funny, some were more thoughtful.  The first thing that popped into my head was “perspective”.  It seems to me that regardless of the circumstance — sadness, fear, pain, fatigue, you name it — adding gratitude into the mix brings a new and I would argue, better perspective.

I have come to believe that what I focus on grows.  If I choose to focus on anger then it will grow; if I choose to focus on gratitude, regardless of my circumstances, gratitude will grow.  Since starting this blog I have become more intentional about looking for things to be grateful for.  I won’t lie; some days it’s hard.  Some days I’m so busy or tired or afraid or…it’s hard to choose to focus on gratitude.  But I have to remember that it is a choice; my choice.  Seems to me that if I can think about it that way it becomes a no-brainer.  Choose to be angry?  Choose to be afraid?  Choose to be grateful?  Choose joy?  When I think of it that way there is no choice really.

Does choosing to live a grateful life make everything all better?  No, not even close.  But adding gratitude to the mix changes my perspective every time and it does make a difference.  So, what will you choose?


On solitude and the healing it brings…


There’s a real person in here,

hard as it might be to imagine it,

as invisible as I may appear,

or as forgettable, I live

in a world at least as passionate at yours,

just not as loud.

By Tom Atkins

Lost Maples State Natural Area lies about 150 miles WNW of Austin, TX close to the little town of Vanderpool.  It has become a retreat spot for me, one that nurtures my introverted self.  It is a healing place; a place of refuge.

I first began these retreats a couple of weeks before Christmas the year after my divorce.  I went alone, with my Doberman, Gretchen for company.  My ex-husband never understood my introversion, despite the fact that we had taken a Meyers-Briggs personality test in a pre-marriage class at our church.  He was genuinely surprised to find that I was an introvert and apparently didn’t pay attention to the fact that introverts need quiet and solitude to recharge their batteries.  He took it personally when I needed alone time; as if I was moving away from him and not towards something that I needed deep in my soul.

100_0074So, having the chance to go off camping in a remote spot with no cell service and no television– just me and God and Mother Nature–was energizing for me.  I think my friends worried.  “Are you going to be safe out there by yourself?”, they’d ask.  “Are you sure you should be alone over the holidays?”  I told them I’d be fine.  I was car-camping in a campground on the park after all.  There were Park Rangers there; other campers.  And I needed this time to myself.

It was the perfect time of year.  The park is generally very crowded in the fall.  Large groups of people arrive to see the maples turning; their vivid red and orange foliage is stunning.  In December, especially right before Christmas the park is generally nearly empty.  An RV may stop for a day or so on their travels but tent campers are rare; most preferring the milder temperatures of spring and fall.  It does get very cold at night there in the winter.  The campground is in a valley so the sun takes a long time to shine on the campgrounds each morning.  My first night I learned the hard way as the temperatures dropped to 20 degrees in my tent.  I was too cold to get out of my sleeping bag to put on more clothing so I curled up tightly in fetal position and closed my mummy bag down until all that was sticking out was my nose.  It made for a long night but I was more prepared after that.

I spent 4-1/2 glorious days hiking, reading, meditating.   I enjoyed having the park almost to myself.  I rarely met anyone out on the trails.  The days were clear and crisp; cold, but not in a bad way.  It was perfect for hiking.  Gretchen and I hiked several miles each day; taking lunch out on the trails and enjoying the beauty of the Texas Hill Country.  It was restorative. 


Since then I have gone back at Christmastime often.  It’s been a few years now but I have a trip planned this Christmas.  I’m looking forward to it.  My Border Collie, Pippin will go with me–it will be his first major camping trip.  There is no personal crisis that sends me there this year.  My life is good.  But the beauty of the Hill Country calls to me–as if it is a homecoming. 

In her poem, “The Invitation”, Oriah Mountain Dreamer asks this question:

“I want to know if you can be alone with yourself
And if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.”

I’m grateful to be able to answer “Yes” to that question.


Many thanks to Tom Atkins at Quarry House for graciously granting me permission to share his beautiful poem.

The bed lump…

I’ve had an assortment of Italian cats over the past 30 years.  I loved to tell people that they were Italian Longhairs as if they were some exotic breed.  They weren’t…just your average stray cats.  It started out with Mafia, so named because we wanted him to be tough enough to defend my dear, sweet, harmless June Bug from the feral cats that lived around the barn.  He wasn’t particularly tough but he was a great cat.  After that there was Aldo and then the two Guidos.

This story, however, is about Aldo.  In 1991 I moved to Austin with Mafia and my Border Collie, Bruiser and had purchased my first home.  Aldo came to live with me the day I closed on the house.  He was only about 8 weeks old and a typical, playful kitten.   I had no furniture and can still remember him zooming up and down the hallway darting in and out of each room. 

As he grew he loved to lie up on the toilet tank in the morning and watch me put my makeup on.  I’m not quite sure why that was so fascinating but he did it every morning.  Fortunately, he never offered any critique of how I looked.

When he was a few years old I rented out my house and moved out to my friend Bill’s place for a year to take care of his house, dog and horses.  By then there were three cats; Bruiser had passed on but I had my Doberman, Gretchen.  Bill lived in Dallas but kept the house as a weekend house.  I could live there for free in exchange for looking out for things; the only stipulation was that the cats couldn’t come in the house.  No problem for Mafia, who had been a barn cat, but Aldo had never slept outside and neither had Guido (the 1st). 

I kept them in a big crate to get them used to the place for the first week but sure enough, Aldo and Guido disappeared about 24 hours after I let them out.  I was heartbroken.   The house was on 5 or 10 acres with a lot of woods and we walked everywhere looking for them.  They were nowhere to be found.  Three days later I heard some meowing in the woods behind the house and there was Aldo.  He let me pick him up and was happy to be fed but he was pretty freaked out.  He hung around after that but he mostly hid in the woods and got to be about half wild.  Sadly, Guido the 1st never came back.

A few months before I was due to move back into my own house I got married.  We moved into the garage apartment on the property while we were waiting for the lease to run out on my house.  Every now and then my husband and I would sneak Aldo into the apartment but he wanted none of it.  He would frantically pace back and forth in front of the door until we’d let him back out of the house.  When we packed up to move back I wasn’t sure that Aldo was going to survive the 20 minute car trip.  He was in a crate but was so stressed he was practically hyperventilating by the time we got to the house.  My husband was skeptical.  “How in the world are we ever going to make this cat a house cat?”, he’d ask.  I wasn’t so sure myself but I was determined to give it a try.  My neighborhood was no place for a roaming cat, especially a frightened one and I certainly didn’t want to leave him behind.

I let him out of the crate when we got into the house and he transformed.  He walked out of the crate, jumped up on the sofa, curled up in a ball and went to sleep.  He immediately went back to being the sweet, affectionate cat he had been before he had been uprooted.  My husband was stunned.  “Who is this cat and what did you do with Aldo?”  I didn’t have an answer but it certainly solved my dilemma.

He was still an odd cat.  He was afraid of strangers and anytime we’d have company or the doorbell would ring he’d make a beeline for the bedroom.  He could slip his way up under the comforter on the bed in the blink of an eye and except for the lump in the middle of the bed the comforter was not an inch out of place.  It was a sight to behold.  We took to calling him the “Bed Lump”.

The Bed Lump

The Bed Lump

After my marriage ended I took in another kitten which eventually came to be called Guido the 2nd because he was so much like the first Guido in personality.  He and Aldo were big buddies and you could generally find them asleep in a pile together.  Aldo got to where he wanted to sleep on my pillow, practically on top of my head every night.  It got so bad that I had to start shutting the cats out of the bedroom at night.  Aldo didn’t seem too put out but it thoroughly pissed Guido off and he would literally yowl and fling himself up against the door all night long.  I took to sleeping with a box fan running right by my bed to try to drown out the sound of a 10 pound cat going thud against the hollow-core door.  I had visions of him backing up to get a running start, I think he was convinced that eventually he’d be able to break the door down.  He never stopped until Aldo was gone and I could start leaving the door open at night again.

Aldo and his buddy Guido the 2nd

Aldo and his buddy Guido the 2nd

Aldo had been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy when he was about a year old.  He did really well on medication and was still going strong at 13 years of age.  Then one day I got a call from one of our vets that they had picked up some unusual results on his annual bloodwork.  He had lost a little weight (Note:  his other nickname had been Fat Aldo and I think he lived on a reducing diet the last 11 years of his life) but other than that and his heart murmur he seemed healthy.  Turns out he had a rare form of cancer and within three months he was gone.  He had lived a good life and I just couldn’t see putting him through chemotherapy when the odds were it wouldn’t be curative or give him more than a few extra months.

Aldo was a great cat and never ceased to be entertaining.  He taught me a lot about cat behavior and about the love that a cat can bring into your life.  Good kitty Aldo…I’m grateful.

Finding gratitude in the messiness of life…

Today’s been somewhat of a difficult day.  I sent a letter to someone that I had a great deal of respect for in which I questioned the judgment of the handling of a particular situation.  I wanted to get the perspective of this person and hopefully understand what had happened.  I acknowledged that I could be wrong; even hoped that I was.  I wanted to believe the best of this person.  I was summarily slapped down and told it was none of my business.  Okay then…

As sad as that makes me I have much to be grateful for.  I have a collection of wonderful, supportive friends who are creative and smart,  loving and honest.  I have a family that loves me and is there for me when I need it.   I have the most wonderful faith community in the world, full of misfits that I love dearly.

I have my dear, sweet, funny Pippin who brings light into every moment of my day.  OK, maybe not every moment…when he’s dumping toys on top of me at 5:00 a.m. I sometimes wish he’d stop bringing quite so much light ;-).

I’ve got a good job, one that I love with great coworkers.  A place to work that is operated with integrity.  I’ve got my house and 20 year old truck that still runs.  That also means there’s no car payment either :-).

I’ve got music in my life in abundance and it brings me such joy.  I have the folk festival in Kerrville to look forward to in 24 days (but who’s counting ;-)).  Oh, the friends I’ll see there.  Many, many hugs coming.

There are so many more things to be grateful for.  TNTC as they say in medicine; an acronym meaning “too numerous to count”.  It’s usually used in lab medicine when counting bacteria and parasites and such but hey, it works!

Life is messy.  Sometimes you get slapped down.  But I believe that what you focus on grows and there’s always, always something to be grateful for.  And I am.

Holding on loosely…

Bird on open hand

“She can feel the wind right now
Wash away her tracks and plans
If you really want to live this life
Gotta hold it with an open hand”

From “Open Hand” by David Wilcox

I love my faith community; Journey Imperfect Faith Community in Austin, TX.  I have learned so much from these wonderful people.  One of those things that I have learned (and am still learning) is that if you really love something or someone you will hold it loosely.

It’s so easy for us to care about something so much that we become afraid of losing it.  We want to hold on tight; not let go.  The trouble is that it doesn’t work.  Because the fear makes us start to try to control things; to manipulate things in our favor when if we can just open up our hands and hold the thing that we love loosely, if it is meant to be that thing that we care so deeply for will grow and thrive.  Growth cannot happen when something is held tightly.

I’ve had to learn this the hard way on more than one occasion.  I’m still learning that the best that I can do is stand in my truth with love and let go of the outcome.   It isn’t always easy; in fact, most of the time it’s really hard.  No one wants to lose something that they care about.

The first step of the 12 Steps used in AA and other such groups is to recognize that we’re powerless.  It’s a scary thing to admit that.  I’ve come to believe that there is only about 5 percent of my life that I have any control over.  The rest of it I just have to hold loosely and trust.  The times when I get there, really get there it is the most freeing feeling imaginable and I am grateful.