Author Archives: Thoughts by Sallie

Legacy of a Cat

Legacy of a Cat

Striper as a kitten in the CCC clinical office

In November of 2004 I was a new case manager at Chamberlain’s Children’s Center in Hollister, California.  I was not very good at my job yet.  One of the best things about CCC is that they truly strive there to create “practice families” and expose the kids to normal life stuff, rather than “rehabilitate” in a sterile vacuum then throw them back out into the world and hope they make it.  We had been talking about getting some pets, so it was no surprise when our CEO, Doreen, showed up one day with a kitten that she found alone in her neighborhood. She was bushy, with big tufts of hair on her jowls, and had an air of elegance about her from the very beginning.  I wanted to name her something sophisticated, but the kids took to her tabbyness and called her “Striper.”  I have spent the last decade telling people that she isn’t a stripper.

 

Waiting for the fax to ring!

And so Striper moved in to our office.  She was entertaining by day and independent by night.  She had a special love for anything that made paper move, and we quickly learned to dash and protect the fax machine as soon as it started ringing.  There is nothing more professionally awkward than having to call someone and ask them to refax something because your cat jammed the machine. We also learned to unplug the desk printer at night… after Striper discovered that by holding down the power button she could print test pages.  We came in to work one day to find all of the paper in the printer (at least 50 pages), previously blank and loaded, strewn all over the floor describing the features of said printer.  We walked in to the same disaster months later when we forgot to unplug it, which made me wonder if she tested it out every night.

 

The life of a therapy cat

When Striper was small she would climb up my executive style desk chair and take a nap behind my neck while I worked.  As she got older she became less and less tolerant of grownups, but she had eternal patience with the kids.  Striper had this lovely progression of irritation starting with her ears lying back, then tail twitching, then a low growl, then a hiss, then a bite or scratch.  This pattern helped the kids learn to recognize nonverbal cues and modify their social behavior to respect boundaries.  From them she tolerated being accessorized, carried in some very strange ways, and some fairly rough handling.  The only time she looked at me for desperate help was when a two year old tried to ride her!

 

My boss at the time, Cheryl, is a true cat whisperer, and she and Striper had a very close bond.  In June 2007, when Cheryl started packing up her desk the week of her retirement, Striper moved into her litter box and wouldn’t come out.  So I was asked to take her home with me.

Playing Around

 

Striper and Onyx enjoying the sunshine together… with a wall between them

I had a cat named Onyx.  Onyx was my cuddlebug and special friend.  And, despite being fixed, Onyx had true carnal desire for Striper from day one.  Poor Striper.  But over time we developed a routine, each of them got me for a specific part of the day and had their tasks.  Bedtime was Striper’s time, and she always woke me up with her rough tongue – constantly annoyed at my alarm clock that kept going off.  Onyx chilled out a little as he got older, and eventually they started getting along.  A couple of times I even managed to snap a picture of them sleeping within reach of each other!  As Striper got older her peripheral vision became compromised, and I think her depth perception – it got to the point that she wouldn’t jump higher than a chair because she miscalculated so often that it just wasn’t worth the risk.

 

In September 2012 I left CCC (I was good at my job by then) and started a clinical position at a Refugee Foster Care Program in San Jose.  My plan was to save enough to move to San Jose, but the commute took too much out of me so I decided to move in with a friend for a few months in between.  I couldn’t take both cats with me.  Onyx also had this habit of peeing on everything, a habit that I did not want to torture a roommate with, and had a not-so-secret desire of becoming an outdoor cat and I wasn’t willing to risk the vastly increased outdoor dangers in San Jose.  So Onyx became an outdoor cat cared for by an elderly cat lady in my complex, and Striper came to San Jose.

 

I met Debbie through a mutual friend, and she agreed to foster Striper while I found a place in San Jose.  Plans changed, and she ended up keeping her for 3 months instead of 6 weeks.  I’m so grateful to Debbie for her care of Striper during that time.  I was adapting to a job that was incredibly difficult on so many levels, and it was during that time that I realized how much I truly loved and needed my cat.  I’m told that she spent most of those months perched at the top of Debbie’s cat tree avoiding her two cats – which didn’t surprise me one bit.  She truly does despise most other animals.  God gave us a perfect apartment, and we were reunited in February 2013.

Striper and I lived a quiet life for a couple of years, although I did learn about cat depression and learned to keep a

Riding home from work

couple of lamps on for her in my very dark apartment.  I took her to work with me from time to time, both for my own comfort and the amusement of my clients.  Some of the kids had never known a domestic cat before, and she was so great with them!  I left the RFC program and went back to work for Chamberlain’s in January 2014, this time at their outpatient clinic in Gilroy.  My days became even longer again, and I noticed Striper becoming more depressed and lonely.

 

 

Helping to type notes

 

The office was pet friendly, with two other clinicians bringing their dogs every day, and I received permission to bring her.  Striper hated the car ride in the morning… I tried in the crate, out of the crate, kitty sunglasses, everything I could think of, but she would always scream the whole way.  But when we got there she absolutely loved it!  She loved working with the kids again, teaching them social skills, being cuddled, and spending time with me.  The trip home was always fine, and she was definitely happier.

 

Life with a kitten

But Striper was getting old, and I could tell.  She turned 11 and became a senior cat.  She was tired and sore and seemed less able to jump even shorter distances.  I knew that she was lonely, but didn’t think she’d be able to tolerate being around another cat.  But I was also keenly aware that she was nearing the end of her life, that I needed a cat, and that I would never be able to replace her.  So when my coworker adopted a kitten in May 2015 and was going back for another, I asked her to bring me one.  And I was hand-delivered a 5-week old goddess of destruction called Persephone. Pippi looked like a little elf and was beyond adorable, but housed within her 10-oz body the energy of a typhoon.  Needless to say, Striper was not in favor.  Pippi got a belled collar when she started racing up behind my non-peripheral-vision cat and launching onto her back.  Striper would have none of it, and I started to regret my decision.

Pippi and Striper meet

 

 

 

 

 

I wanna be like you-oo-oo!

But then Pippi grew up, and out of her maturity emerged a therapy cat.  I watched in amazement as she began a months-long process of earning Striper’s trust.  She would put herself in Striper’s line of sight and approach until Striper began her low growl.  Then she would stop and lay down and watch.  Once Striper was fully relaxed, Pippi would take a few more steps until Striper growled again.  Over weeks, the tolerated distance shrank from 10 feet to about 2 feet.  I will never forget the day I was reading on the couch and suddenly heard bells jangling.  They were wrestling.  My. Cats. Were. Wrestling.  Striper. Was Playing. With. Another. Cat.  I cried.  Striper had a friend.  As their relationship progressed Striper allowed Pippi to groom her every day, and every once in a while they would sleep within touching distance.  Striper turned 14 this past fall, around 72 in cat years.  She could jump again, run again, she wasn’t so afraid or reactive.  When we got Pippi she became “kitten” and Striper became “mama,” but Pippi was by far the caregiver.  There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Pippi added years to Striper’s life, and that Striper was never happier than when Pippi was her friend.

 

When Cheryl retired from CCC she moved to Visalia.  Through a series of events we developed a close friendship that merged to family, and I now spend all of my California holidays here.  One of the best things is that I can load up the cats and bring them with me.  Both of the cats hate the ride, and they’re not really a fan of being here, but all 3 of us are certainly happier together than with them subjected to a cat-sitter in San Jose.

Buddies forever!

So last Sunday, December 23, 2018, was no different than any other “go to Visalia” day except that we were leaving in the morning instead of late at night.  Striper woke me up to turn off my alarm and gave my face and hands a nice bath with her now smooth tongue.  She demanded food and even got some coconut oil out of me.  She hid under the bed when the suitcase came out, and came to cuddle when I took a break on the couch.  She took her travel pill without complaining, although she didn’t seem to get as drunk from it as usual (usually she’s making out with the walls, it’s pretty funny!).  She was getting herself a snack when I picked her up to put her in her crate, before I went through the traumatic ordeal of catching Pippi to put her into hers.  We rested a bit after that, then we were off.

 

Striper was quiet in her crate, but she was further into her pill than usual at the start of a trip so I was just grateful.  We were all listening to the 8th Outlander Audio Book, that I had started that morning.  I paused in Los Banos for a power nap, then ran into Starbucks for some caffeine.  When I got back into the car I realized that I still hadn’t heard a peep out of Striper.  I called her name, with no response.  I poked her through the bars, no movement.  I opened the door.  She was curled up, sound asleep, eyes closed, relaxed.  I yelled at her, I shook the crate.  She didn’t move.

 

Striper was gone.

 

Striper was gone, and I had 115 miles left to drive.  I called Cheryl, sobbing.  She calmed me down to the point that I was able to ask for prayer on Facebook then block it out and do nothing but listen to my book and drive – with the occasional freak out about Pippi being too quiet, but she was fine.  I got to Visalia, where we confirmed that Striper indeed would not wake up, let Pippi take one goodbye sniff into the crate, and put her unceremoniously in the garage.  I wrapped gifts, taking breaks to come comfort a crying Pippi.  I fell asleep around 4:30am with her cuddled up with me under the blankets.  She’s here with me now, purring, as we share Striper’s story with you.  Her tongue is much rougher than Striper’s.

 

Truthfully, Striper did it right.  One of my greatest fears was that she would get sick and I would have to make the decision to euthanize because I couldn’t afford medical treatment that would only extend her life by months.  I’ve never actually seen a dead pet before, since only one of mine died when I was at home and I was too young to be involved.  I don’t know what I would have done if I had to pick her up her body and transport her.  This would have been so much more tragic for me and Pippi if we had been home, alone, if I had to go back to work the next day.  Instead, Striper picked a day when she was healthy and happy.  She was already in her crate.  For all I know, she died before we even left the apartment.  We were on our way to Cheryl, at the beginning of a 2 week break.  Her death was free to me, since her cremation was covered by my friends as a “condolence gift” (whatever that is).  I can spend all the time with Pippi that she needs.  Striper was truly a mama cat in her final moment.

 

I could never replace Striper.  But here’s the thing: Pippi is lonely.  She has never been alone before.  And she truly IS a mama cat.  It’s like a calling for her.  And what I want most for her is to have a life with a cat who can reciprocate all the love she has to give.  So yesterday I went to the Valley Oak SPCA and adopted a beautiful kitten that I will pick up on Monday to begin the process of adding her to our family.

 

I think most pets are very special to their family, but it stays there.  Because of how Striper started life, she has been so special to so many.  So many kids have been loved and impacted by her!  She has made so many smile, taught them things.  And she herself finally learned how to allow herself to be loved.  This is a legacy that cannot be spoken about many cats.  And I am so grateful to have been her human.

 

Striper

October(ish) 2004 – December 23, 2018

 

 

 

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The San Jose Pop Up Choir

Performing “Little Town” for Kidney Action Day – I was Belle

Up until about 2 years ago I had only had one truly close friendship since college that I didn’t meet at work.  One of those work relationships developed long past that job, but the others all ended every time I transitioned.  Friends I had from college and after pretty much all got married and had families, leaving more and more married to work.  When I moved to San Jose almost 6 years ago I ended up in a work environment that did not really harbor any friendships for me, and I became desperately lonely.  My doctor had been recommending a website called meetup to me for several years, and I was lonely enough to start considering the possibility of facing my social anxiety to try something new.  I really missed singing, but all of the local choirs I could find were very “official,” requiring auditions, money, strict attendance, and musical skills that I really don’t have.  Then a coworker told me that she had once visited a meetup group called the San Jose Pop Up Choir, a small group of people that get together to sing karaoke at a little studio.  I had never sung karaoke and, despite my love of performing, the idea terrified me.  I checked out the meetup and the next one was going to a Sound of Music singalong at a movie theater.  Now THAT I could do!!

 

I met Teresa and Kathleen at that theater, and the rest is history.  The San Jose Pop Up Choir is now my family.  I have found people like me there… single, professional, mid-30s, overworked and lonely in the Bay Area.  I have found people a generation or two above me who are living proof that aging doesn’t have to be boring.  I have found “kids” a generation below me, and been able to observe just how special and unique and admirable these beautiful snowflakes truly are – they endure a life far more rigorous than I ever have!  I’ve watched people come to meet a New Year’s Resolution to overcome stage fright and a year later belt out Whitney Houston by themselves.  I have found the friendships that I never expected in my tiny subgroup called Quarter to Ten.  I have found family.

 

I love the tagline on our new website: Making friends one song at a time.  Because, really, that is our priority.  Honestly, we don’t care if you can “sing” or not (whatever that means).  All we care about is that you will support an environment where people can make music with their voice and laugh together.  And, shockingly (or maybe not so much), as people who think they can’t sing relax in a nonjudgmental environment, they suddenly discover that they CAN sing.

 

Because we are such a wonderful group, we are growing.  This year we have grown a lot.  When I became a “serious” member almost 2 years ago, we were lucky if 20 people showed up on a Friday night.  Last night was special because it was the last karaoke night in our current space, but there were about 40 of us!  We are performing more, putting on our own showcases, singing at events and fundraisers.  We have never charged for a performance, unless it was to cover expenses; in those cases it is usually US that pays so our guests can enjoy the evening for free.  Last year we raised over $3000 for victims of hurricane and fire disasters. Our stage is small, making rehearsals cramped and difficult, and it’s increasingly easier to trip over cables these days.  We keep buying more equipment as we grow and become more active, but it’s expensive and breaks down.  Some music can’t be performed at a formal event unless we can purchase licenses (Even songs like White Christmas!).

 

We’re in the process of moving to a new location (Well Sinohui is – we’re along for the ride), and we need to make some upgrades – a bigger stage, some better equipment, promotional material like business cards and postcards, things like that.

 

Will you help us?

 

Click here to read Sinohui’s story and watch a video of our signature song (in which for some reason I can’t keep my chin down).

This holiday season we will be doing lots of caroling – a toy drive and downtown Campbell to name two – and would love for you to join us!

Here are our two upcoming big events – we’d love to see you there!!

HAMILTUNES

(Turn your sound up) – Free Holiday Concert

 

GISH 2018 – Change A Life: Rwanda

GISH 2018 – Change A Life: Rwanda

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Y’all, I love GISH!  I love the craziness of it, the weirdness of it, the community of it.  Most of all, I love the extrinsic motivation to do good in the world.  Last year, the GISH community rallied the world to save a special program in South Africa.  This year, we will impact a community of Rwandan Genocide Survivors.  It is so fitting that my team is called Carry On My Wayward Sons.

Please please please, check out my team’s crowdrise campaign.  Read the remarkable story of Olive, who started a cascade of transformation through her risk of forgiveness.  Share our campaign.  Consider contributing just paid hour of your life by donating your hourly wage – in this way you are pouring your time and energy into this community even though you can’t be there to do it in person.

If you are interested in learning more about the Rwandan genocide, this is an excellent article by the UNHCR.

And SHARE!!

Looking my age

Looking my age

I’ve been holding back on this, but it’s starting to really bug me. So file this away, please.

My peer group is starting to approach and crush 40 years old. Everywhere I see and hear, “But you don’t LOOK forty! SERIOUSLY, you don’t! You’re so beautiful!”

I was faced with this for the first time ever a couple of months ago when I turned 38, and people kept insisting I don’t look a day over 27.

I speak strictly for myself, but maybe this will resonate with others.

1. Age is an abstract number based on a unit of measurement. Different countries have annual calenders of different lengths and start counting years differently. And know what? No one has ever taken a picture of age. So how on Earth does anyone know what it looks like???

2. That said, I DO look my age. I live inside a body that is a certain age, and this is what it looks like.

3. Newsflash: Implying that “looking my age” is the opposite of being something you’d want to look at is not actually a compliment.

4. I have earned most of the changes in my body. I have worn sunscreen and eye creams or not, I have slept or not, I have exercised or not, I have cooked or not. My worry lines are there because I have cared. My laugh lines are there because I have found joy. I have physical scars because I had adventures. I have stretch marks and round cheeks because of the journey my body and I made from enemies to soulmates. So remember, when you try to compliment me by erasing 11 years of my life… That’s what you are actually taking away: Me.

5. My life is so very far from over. A few months ago I was getting a little worried, then I stopped and conducted a full 10 seconds of first-grade math. I discovered that I’m not even half way into my career yet. This is comforting, because it feels like I’ve been in this for a REALLY long time already.

6. And think about it… If NO ONE “looks their age,” then clearly whatever standard we are using for this is no longer the standard.

So when my age comes up…
Tell me I look healthy.
Tell me I have lived well.
Ask me about my adventures.
Ask me what’s next.
Tell me the years have been good to me.

Please, do not tell me I don’t look my age.

Indelible Words

Today I saw this video, and it made me cry.  Of course I shared it, and started blogging a comment that went ellipsical and ended up far from this video.  So I shared the video with the lame comment of “Such a cool story!,” and decided to post the blog here.  It really is a sweet love story, and I recommend watching the video, so here it is:

If you decided to skip the video, here’s the spoiler: boy send’s Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Shoebox to a girl in the Philippines when he’s 7 years old, girl finds him on Facebook 10 years later, now they’re married.  There are so many things we could get from this story…. it’s a love story for a Hallmark movie script, a testament to shoebox ministries, a testimony that God brings two people together (bonus points if they had both just “stopped looking in order to focus on themselves”), all great things.

Here’s what made me cry: the power of showing love on paper to children in need. What need?  The need for connection.  I am forcibly reminded of the letters I received as a child in Mexico. I remember because I saved every single one. All the letters from my grandparents (so many postcards and place mats from my Grandma Dorinda!), my Uncle David in the Navy, my penpals (Jennie, Sara, Amanda, and Emily), the ones my dad sent when we lived in opposite countries (even the one he sent when I was at summer camp where he spelled my name with a y (he fixed it before he mailed it, and it took two tries for him to sign “Dad,” too, so it was just an off day that made me laugh)), the letters Angel faithfully wrote me when I was lonely in America, all of my birthday cards. They were read and reread, studied, memorized. I can tell you who sent me the same birthday card two years in a row, which cards ended up in my Bible and Box of Special Things, the round gold-rimmed Teddy bear sticker Sara sent me, the white cat birthday card from my Grandma Wiedling… these written words – so much more than my carousel horses or snow globes or shiny rocks or boxes or international coins or stamps or white teddy bears – these were (and are) my treasures. These are in my heart still, burned into my soul as the indelible reminder that I was not forgotten, that I was loved, that I was worth an international stamp.  People get tattoos of the handwriting of loved ones, and I totally get it.

Since then there are wonderful inventions… email, Facebook, text messages, ecards, evites, affordable communication in and to almost any person in any country. It is convenient, customizable, dependable, and instant. It also gets lost, right in the palm of our hands, lost in feeds, inboxes, threads, accidental (or regrettably intentional) deletes, the fleetingness of Snapchat. There is no more saving the letter for when we can relax on our couch, or hiding in the privacy of our rooms, no more pages of stories, enclosed stickers, birthday cards with activities in them, specially chosen photos to be treasured.  Boxes of treasured handwritten pages are a thing of the past, no more the ceremonies of burning love letters from that hurt us… the delete button removing most of our chance to halt such violence.  There is no more choosing of stationary, finding pens that don’t smear, numbering of pages, taking the TIME to STOP and write to someone, to invest actual time in a relationship with someone far away, no more choosing what flat and weightless memento to enclose.  Now we share snippets, emojis, endless streams of filtered and staged pictures. They come without ceremony or excitement. They are invasive, appearing instantly and stealing from us the option of choosing the location and circumstances of discovering what lies inside.  There is no more turning a sealed envelope over in our hands, studying the stamp and postmark, wondering what the letter went through to get to us, realizing that we are touching a paper that not long ago was being held by someone thinking about us.  The magic is gone.  No we read our messages at stoplights, in lines at the supermarket, on the toilet, in the middle of dinner, in the middle of conversations with other people. The words are no longer sacred.  Using a stamp has become a luxury, synonymous to actually paying for parking and going inside the airport to meet a weary traveler.

And they are typed. There is always an element of genericness about them, even if we have the option of font selection. Teenagers… would you recognize your grandparents’ handwriting if you saw it? Or your parents’, if it wasn’t just a scribbled note? Parents, would you recognize your teen’s developing script, the one they use in real life? Because our handwriting is US. It is our personality, our emotion, our development, our soul.  They are pieces of and links to history.  I have heard my aunt say, “Well, I’m not sure who’s in that picture, but that’s mom’s handwriting and she was labeling all these photos when she was in college, so it’s probably…”  Could you do that?

I know my grandparents’ handwriting… my Grandma Wiedling’s short script on unlined white paper, my Grandpa Wiedling’s typewriter-like block letters on graph paper, my Grandma Dorinda’s narrowly-spaced cursive squeezing as much as possible on the backs of diligently-mailed postcards, my Grandpa Rupe’s childlike lettering (a result of learning disabilities and decades of teaching young elementary grades), my mother’s small loopy cursive, my dad’s scrawl, my brother’s big print.  My own handwriting, like all of ours, has evolved into something that reflects me – a mix of print and cursive, depending on what is easiest in the space, with a’s shaped like “a” that came after my college calligraphy class.  I have always regretted not knowing my Grandma Jean’s handwriting.  She was the first grandma to see me, but died before I was old enough to get a letter from her.  I do have samples of her handwriting, but they are not burned into me like the words that have been written for me.

I don’t know where I’m going with this.  I’ll be honest, I don’t take the time to write.  I have a collection of fantastic Mother’s Day cards that I have collected annually for my Grandmother… some day she’ll just get a package of them.  I have even made a rule not to comment on Facebook birthdays, because I carry so much guilt over not consistently commenting on everyone’s.  I have so many things to write on my blog, but I don’t do that, either.  I am too busy and too tired to muster the energy needed for this skill at the end of a day.  But why is it a skill that requires so much attention?  It used to be second nature.  Why is it not normal for us anymore?   And if the answer really is that we are too busy and too tired to invest in relationships that are out of sight…. for goodness sake’s, WHY???  Technology was supposed to make life easier, faster, more efficient.  We should have more time and more energy.  But… we spend more time editing photos, don’t we?  More time checking email, more time thinking about 12 things we should be monitoring at once, more time synching schedules, more time sending one little text or email, more time watching just one more 22-minute episode.

And so we have forgotten the value of handwriting.  We have forgotten how special it was to get a letter.  We have forgotten what it is to sit and contemplate a friendship as we share our lives on paper.  We have forgotten that labeling and describing the memory is more important than the perfect selfie.  We have forgotten that children remember the simplest of things… like whether you remembered or forgot.

So right now, while I’m remembering… excuse me while I go write a letter to a child.

Give a Little, Change the World

Hello, everyone, Gishwhes is extending to all of us the chance to work together as a global community to not only solidify the legacy of a dying hope-giver, but also ensure that her mission to empower children in South Africa continues.

Click here to read the powerful story of Fiona Sargeant, a miracle worker suffering from advanced-stage terminal cancer, who has used dance to strengthen her community and improve the lives and opportunities South African children.

Please donate whatever you can to our Crowdfund page (no amount is too small!) and share this post with everyone you meet!

You can share this post using the buttons below, or share this shortlink: http://wp.me/p1tA7E-j0

We only have 3 days – act fast!!

 

“It gives me hope. I feel special when I’m doing it. If something bad happens to me, all I have to do is dance…” -Timarandarin (14 years old)

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Extremely Important GISHWHES Research!! – UPDATE –

Hi everyone!

Long time no write.  I miss it.  Unfortunately, that’s not why I’m here today.  This week I am a proud participant in GISHWHES (which everyone knows stands for “Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen.”  Duh.)  The important thing to know about GISHWHES is that it brings together loads of people to do loads of fun things for the entertainment and benefit of loads of other people.  It’s pretty cool.

You can learn more about GISHWHES here, if you want: http://www.gishwhes.com/ 

Which leads me to how YOU can help!!

The GISHWHES Institute of Vital Statistics (probably not a real thing, but whatevs) has tasked me with solving the question of whether or not people brush their teeth starting on the side of their dominant hand.  To that end, I am asking you to do 3 simple things:

  1. Put your hand up to your mouth right now, pretend you’re brushing your teeth.
  2. Answer the following 3 questions. Be sure to click the “vote” button for EACH question so that the results pop up!
  3. Share this post with the world (we need at least 400 responses!).  For easy, you can use the sharing buttons below or this shortlink: http://wp.me/p1tA7E-iK

Click “Vote”

Click “Vote”

Click “Vote”

REMEMBER TO PRESS THE “VOTE” BUTTON FOR EACH QUESTION!

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THE RESULTS ARE IN!!!

Thanks to everyone who participated – may your teeth live long and strong!

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