Ordinary Thoughts, Essays and Short Stories

Month: January 2023

It’s All About Family


Many things in our lives create a feeling of joy. Fiery sunsets, swaying trees, laughing children, nostalgic music, the smell of bacon…the list goes on and on. When you ask people what brings them the most joy, it’s not uncommon for them to say that family tops the list.

Interestingly, the beings that make up a family aren’t always related. Sometimes they’re not even human…well, not in the technical sense of the term. But that doesn’t make them any less valuable or loved. And it doesn’t make it any less painful when they leave us.

Click below to get my take on how Pets Are People, Too.

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Pets Are People, Too


What is it about people’s furry little loves that turn them into spineless pantywaists? There are pet parents out there who can bravely face combat, ruthlessly broker million-dollar deals, and unapologetically evict nonpaying tenants. But if their dogs — or cats or pythons (ugh) or whatevers — nudge them perilously close to the edge of the bed each night, they’re rendered utterly powerless.

Man versus puppy…and the puppy wins every time. Although in our case, the bed hogs have always been cats. Succumbing to a pet’s whims would be downright pathetic if said pet wasn’t so stinkin’ cute. And those of us with critter-kids can relate. We know we do it. We roll our eyes when we admit we do it. And still, night after restless night, we continue to do it.

But why do we do it? Why do we give in to nearly every little demand our fur-covered children toss at us? The simple answer is that we care about our pets and want them to be comfortable…even if we wind up being less than comfortable in the process. But for a lot of us, it goes deeper than that. We anthropomorphize our pets. We give them people-thoughts and people-feelings. We actually fear they’ll be upset and hold it against us if we do something they don’t like.

Sounds a bit irrational, doesn’t it? I mean, animals don’t hold grudges, right?

Wrong. They do, and lots of us know this from experience. For example, we had a grey tabby many years ago who seemed to be a normal feline with normal feline tendencies. Max meowed for food, liked being scratched under her chin, and used her hind claws to try to slash the guts out of any stuffed toy she was given to play with. But she also had feelings. Like people have feelings.


Max decided to show us how strong her feelings could actually be when my mom was ill. I was away from home a lot during that time, going back and forth from our town to my parent’s home so I could help with Mom’s care. That went on for over a year, and more than midway into that period, Max started pooping on the guest room bed. Not every day, but every little whipstitch. After about the third or fourth incident, we decided to keep the door to that room closed. That didn’t deter Max, though. She just decided to poop on our bed instead. Again, it wasn’t daily, but it happened often enough to be an issue. She acted fine in every other regard, but we thought this behavior might be her way of telling us she was in a health crisis, so we took her to the vet.

The doc gave Max a clean bill of health and then asked if anything had changed in our routine at home. So, I filled him in on my frequent absences due to my mom’s illness. He quickly determined that the disruption to Max’s sense of normalcy was the reason for those occasional unwelcome gifts on our bedspread. Apparently, she disliked the fact that I wasn’t at her beck and call as much as I used to be, and this was her way of expressing her displeasure. In other words, she was royally ticked and intended to make sure we knew it.

Shortly after Mom passed away, our home life returned to normal. Max’s little attitude disappeared, the bedspread was no longer being violated, and our fur-kid carried on as if nothing had ever happened.

Max was 15 ½ when she died, and it broke our hearts. We didn’t lose a pet…we lost a member of the family. It took a good six months to even entertain the idea of adopting another cat.

When I finally felt ready, I went to our local animal shelter and was chosen by an adorable little black kitten. She’d reach out to me through the cage, wanting so badly to be petted, but she was skittish at the same time. When we got her home, I temporarily called her HissPurr because she’d hiss when I got near her and then immediately start purring as I began to pet her. I considered naming her Zydeco – just because I liked the name – but something about her made me think of this little comic strip iguana named Quincy. It was adorable, totally clueless when it did something wrong, and for whatever reason, I felt like its name would be a good fit for our new little girl. Time proved she wasn’t nearly as out in left field as that iguana was, but she certainly had her moments.


Quincy was the only cat I’ve ever had that played fetch. She loved for us to throw little things across the room so she could run after them, scoop them up in her mouth, and bring them back so we could start all over again. She’d have played that game endlessly if we’d let her. She also had a particular affinity for pens and pencils. She not only liked them…she stole them. We couldn’t leave any sitting around unattended or they’d disappear. I lost count of the times I caught her on the kitchen counter pawing one out of the pencil holder, and for the longest time, we couldn’t find them after she got tired of whacking them around. We would have sworn they vanished into thin air, but one day, I felt something odd under the area rug in the dining room. I reached underneath and pulled out a pen…then a pencil…then another pen…and so on. I don’t know how many pens and pencils we retrieved from under that rug, but Quincy had apparently been stashing them there for months before we caught on.

Of course, that was just a cat being a cat. But Quincy had her people tendencies, too. Hers came to the forefront most often after we’d been away for a day or two. We always left her with a fresh litter box and plenty of food and water, but when we’d get back, she’d lay into us like there was no tomorrow. And she wasn’t just meowing for attention. She was delivering a loud, thought-out reprimand for our utter lack of compassion and respect. She wasn’t merely upset about being left on her own…she was mad. She always got over it fairly quickly, but there was no mistaking the fact that her feelings had been stepped on, and she was having none of it.

Just like Max, Quincy was 15 ½ when we had to let her go, and once again, our hearts were broken. We had to say goodbye to…not a pet…but another cherished family member.

There was no thought of getting another cat, though, because we already had one. We inherited him when my dad passed away. He just showed up at my folks’ cabin one day and never left. Dad named him Smoke, had him neutered, and thoroughly enjoyed having him around.

After Dad died, the cabin became our weekend getaway, and Smoke was generally there waiting when we came up the drive each Friday evening. He even had a sidekick for a while. Her name was Charlie, and we inherited her from Dad, too. Both were outdoor cats, and we began referring to them as the Cabin Kitties. It took a few months for Smoke and Charlie to trust us enough to come inside for any length of time. But once they realized it was a pretty cozy place to be, they’d both meet us when we arrived on Friday, come inside off and on to hang out with us during the weekend, and then watch us leave on Sunday. It became such a routine that, if they weren’t waiting for us when we got there, we’d worry until they showed up.


The weekend eventually came when that worry was validated. Charlie had been limping a little the weekend before, and when we arrived the following Friday, she wasn’t waiting with Smoke. She didn’t show up that weekend, or the weekend after, or the weekend after that. Time went on and it became clear that she’d left us…in some manner or another. On the last weekend we had with her…when she had that little limp…we saw a huge turkey vulture in the road on our way home. Logic tried to tell me that the vulture, or another one like it, had seen her vulnerable condition and taken her. My heart, though, couldn’t bear the thought, so I decided that a kindhearted family saw her limping along the road and gave her a new forever home. No one will ever convince me otherwise.


For a while, Smoke seemed a bit lost without Charlie, but he eventually got used to having us all to himself. As a matter of fact, he’s adjusted quite well to being Lord of the Manor. And when it comes to people traits, his sweetest characteristic is how affectionate he is with my husband and me. We live at the cabin full-time now, but when we were coming down only on the weekends, he couldn’t seem to get enough of us when we’d first arrive. He’d come inside, hop up on one of our laps, and nuzzle in so close it was as though he wanted to get inside our skin. It was obvious he missed us when we weren’t here and needed to convince himself we were real. By the end of the first night, he’d settle down and give us some space, but there was always something both sad and sweet about how he first had to get his fill of us. Now that we’re here all the time, he still likes to be on a lap now and then, but he doesn’t carry on like he used to. That only happens if we go someplace overnight. The difference between Smoke and his predecessor, Quincy, is that he never seems angry with us for leaving him. His demeanor when we get home is more one of relief that his humans haven’t abandoned him. Once he’s sure we’re back where we belong, all he really wants is food and a comfy place to nap. Oh, and someone to let him outside to go to the bathroom. The little booger still hasn’t quite mastered the litterbox.

Since Smoke was a stray, the best the vet could do was estimate his age when Dad took him in to be neutered. The doc said he was probably about two years old at the time, and that was in 2010. That puts him in the neighborhood of 15 now, and considering the fact that we lost both Max and Quincy around that age, we’re girding our loins for the inevitable. We try not to dwell on it, but the signs are there. Even though he eats well, he’s lost a lot of weight in the past year. He still grooms himself, but not as fastidiously as he used to. And, whether it’s legit or simply selective, it appears he’s deaf as a post. Age is undoubtedly taking its toll on him.


That being said, he’s still our sweet boy. Regardless of the fact that his DNA is animal rather than human, Smoke’s our kid. He plays, he gets underfoot, and he tests our patience…just like any other child. He considers every surface in our home his own special napping space, and we allow him to take up more than his fair share of the bed when he sleeps with us at night. He has real thoughts and feelings, and he gives back every single ounce of love that we give to him.

In their own unique ways, Max, Quincy, and Charlie were more than just heartbeats. They were very people-y family members. Smoke is no exception.

As far as I’m concerned, cats are just furry little people. And just like Charlie in her new forever home, no one will ever convince me otherwise.


Postscript: Two months and a day after publishing this essay, Smoke passed away. We loved him hard, he returned that in spades, and our hearts are broken. It’s astounding how large a void such a tiny being can leave, but we have lots of pictures and wonderful memories. And I’d like to think he’s now enjoying himself with his friends who went before him. RIP, Smoke. You’ll forever be our good, sweet boy.


I’m pleased to share that my first three novels are available on Amazon.

For information and purchase options, click here.

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Didn’t I Try This Last Year?

With the new year still being fresh and all, a lot of folks are riding high on the dream of bringing their resolutions – or goals, whatever you want to call them – to fruition. They believe this will be the year they finally do what they set out to do.

Whether wise or not, it’s normal for people to conveniently forget how the resolutions of the past had a tendency to sputter out by mid-March, or…more likely…mid-January. Still, they approach each new year with hope and determination.

I am one of those people.

This year I set multiple goals for myself, and the first one I decided to sink my teeth into is one that a lot of us tackle…getting rid of clutter.

This certainly isn’t a new goal for me, but I’m employing a method I haven’t tried before and, so far, so good. Click the button below to read all about it.

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Here I Go Again

If you’ve been with me a while, you may recall a post last year in which I talked about the need to do some decluttering. I planned to incorporate the KonMari Method™ because I’d had luck with it in the past. I did make a good-faith effort and, while a fair amount of progress was made, it wasn’t nearly as much as I’d intended. As we all know, life gets in the way…and then TV gets in the way…and then computer games and books and gazing up at the clouds get in the way. It’s a marvel we (I) ever accomplish anything at all.

Before the ball dropped last week, I’d already decided 2023 would be the year I stopped coming up with excuses for not getting things done and just bloody do them. One of those things was thinning out the ridiculous amount of stuff I have. It would be one thing if I wore all the stuff, read all the stuff, and utilized all the stuff. But I haven’t in a long time, and I don’t expect to in the future. While Marie Kondo’s tidy-up method may have served me well in the past, I realized I needed something a bit less delicate this go-round.

Enter Swedish Death Cleaning. Yes, yes, I know it sounds horribly morbid – and it can be, depending on how you choose to look at it. The main idea behind SDC is to avoid leaving behind a boatload of belongings that nobody wants or needs when you finally cross over. I mean, clearly, the last thing your grief-stricken loved ones will want to do is slog through a basement/storage unit/attic full of worthless stuff and try to figure out what to do with it while still honoring your memory. I know from experience that it’s a gut-wrenching endeavor because it can hurt to part with anything. My mom’s been gone nearly 23 years, and I still have trouble discarding random little slips of paper that have her handwriting on them. They serve no purpose anymore, and there are some I can’t even decipher because, when she was in a rush, she had a habit of reverting to Speedwriting (a type of shorthand). All those symbols and squeezed-together letters are about as easy to read as hieroglyphics. Still, tossing any of those notes still gives me a painful twinge.

The ironic thing is, Mom wouldn’t give two hoots whether I hung onto that stuff or not. She was wise enough to know that that sort of thing has a way of becoming a little albatross around the neck and, the more stuff there is, the fatter and heavier that blasted bird gets.

But I digress. I was talking about the macabre moniker for this type of cleaning. It’s about more than simply preparing for your demise, so I’m approaching it in a more palatable manner. I’m doing it as much for myself as I am for my family because, while I don’t like the idea of them being burdened with my leftover stuff, I also don’t like being mentally encumbered by things I’ll never again use or need. Even if I have an out-of-the-way place to store them, I know they’re there, and I know that someone down the road will have to deal with them when I’m gone. My family may not care…but I care. I plan on being around a long time, and I’m selfish enough to want to live clutter-free while still enjoying the things I do use or truly treasure. Believe me, when my time comes, there will still be plenty of junk my family won’t know what to do with.

That being said, I understand why some of my family members find the term Swedish Death Cleaning so off-putting. It doesn’t exactly elicit a sense of joy. So, in an effort to respect their feelings, I’m using the same initials but referring to my SDC journey as Spiritedly Ditching Clutter. It’s the same method of clearing things out, has a more lighthearted title, and nobody gets hurt.

Fun fact: My husband doesn’t like the new name I came up with because he thinks it’s too hard to say. I just told him not to say it. (But between you and me and the fence post, he’s not wrong. That’s why I only use the initials.)

Margareta Magnusson, the author of the book that in the remainder of this post shall not be named, suggests doing your closet first. (By the way, I guess I technically started with my bookcase because I downloaded the book to Kindle rather than buying a hard copy. That one little step saved several square inches of shelf space. Go, me!)

 Anyway, the closet is a logical place to start because most of us don’t attach a lot of sentiment to our clothing. And most of us have way more clothes than we need or, in some cases, even want. Our want for them just apparently outweighs our willingness to tackle the job of sorting through them. I happily discovered that, once I started on my own clothes closet, it became easy to be almost ruthless. Margareta basically has you ask yourself just two questions as you assess each item:

  1. Will I use it again?
  2. Will it make someone else happy?

By keeping those questions in mind, the job became much less daunting. I set out three boxes (Yes, No, and Maybe) and one large trash bag. After quickly determining where an item should go, I moved on to the next. I was more motivated by the thought of a tidy closet than I was by the delusion of ever again fitting into the cute little shirt I’d kept on the shelf for more years than I care to admit. And, the more items I set aside to toss or donate, the lighter I felt. Sure, I was still too heavy for that cute little shirt, but that was no longer the point. My spirit felt lighter. Once I was done, I stood back and gazed into my finished closet, basking in the fruits of my labor…just like I used to do as a kid after I finally did a deep clean on my pigsty of a bedroom.



Since decluttering isn’t the only thing I want to accomplish throughout this year, my plan is to go about this SDC project slowly…one area each month. January has been reserved for the closets in the house. My clothes closet is already done, and the others shouldn’t take long. My husband doesn’t share my hoarding instinct and, since we downsized and had to learn how to maximize every inch of storage space, none of our household closets have gotten too out of hand. It’s mainly my personal spaces that tend to wind up looking like the aftermath of a nasty storm.

My SDC challenge for February will be the room that serves as my office and crafting area in the garage. At first glance, it looks pretty good, but it’ll probably take the entire month to complete. I have file drawers filled with old pictures in that room as well as a cedar chest chock full of papers and other bits and bobs that belonged to my mom, my dad, and my brother. By tackling this area so early in the year, I’ll be running counter to Margareta’s advice. She strongly suggests doing that sort of cleaning last because it tends to dredge up countless memories – both good and bad – and it’s important to give yourself time to feel whatever emotions arise. I’m allowing myself the whole month, though, so I figure it’ll be fine.

Margareta mentions you may come across things that are very dear to you but won’t be of value to anyone else. She says you should designate one box for those items and clearly label it “Throw Away.” You’ll be able to look through the contents and revisit those memories any time you like and, after you’re gone, your family will see that label and know they don’t even need to open the box. They can just chuck it into the trash. (You know they’ll open it, though, because curiosity is a relentless motivator. Still, you can rest easy knowing you did your part in trying to save them a bit of time and effort.)

Besides the sentimental stuff in my room, it also houses my desk, craft cabinets, and rarely used exercise equipment. So, when I start decluttering in there, I plan to employ the same brutal approach I used in my closet as I went through my clothes and boxes of miscellaneous whatnots.

What helped me most was keeping in mind something I recently heard in a video by The Minimalists. One of them said, “We hold on to things just in case…the three most dangerous words in the English language.” That designation may be a bit extreme, but I understand what he’s getting at. It’s been my M.O. for as long as I can remember…always afraid to part with something, no matter how insignificant, just in case. I would rationalize I might need it at some point in the distant future. Cleaning my clothes closet resulted in one full bag of trash and three full bags of items to donate. That proved to me how rarely just in case even happens.

The minimalist in that video also mentioned the importance of being sensible about what you consider precious. He said that, if everything is precious, then nothing is precious. It reminded me of something my husband told me years ago about a coworker who wanted to make everything a priority. He tried to explain to this person that, if everything is earmarked as a priority, then nothing will be a priority. Using that premise, I know I can hang onto what I consider precious as long as I don’t try to convince myself that everything is precious.

While there isn’t anything particularly earthshaking or original in Margareta’s book, it’s sort of like that old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” For whatever reason, this student feels ready, and the three major principles I’ve taken away from her method are:

  1. Simplify
  2. Organize
  3. Cherish

I’m fully aware I’m in the honeymoon phase, but I’d like to believe this is something that will eventually become second nature. Margareta talks about making SDC a daily habit because, if you’re consistently mindful of what you bring in and what you take out, you’ll never have to do a major purge again.

I really, truly want to put that last part into practice. Considering my hoarding tendencies, only time will tell. For now, though, I’m cautiously optimistic…and even a little excited…to see where this journey takes me.

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