LIFE GOES ON

Updates and I talk to M

I had no idea how hard the knee surgery would be. It was The Summer Of My Discontent. A very long summer of pain, physical therapy, aqua therapy and more physical therapy. My husband put a swimming pool in at the lake house so I could do aqua therapy there. Really wonderful to work out in the warm water in a pool just outside our bedroom and overlooking the lake. Heaven on earth.

While my surgeon and various physical therapists all say I have done very well, I still feel I have a long way to go. So – more physical therapy on my own along with water aerobics and working out with my husband. I know you all must get tired of reading this but I can’t imagine going through all this without him beside me.

After the knee surgery, we both thought we were finished with doctors and hospitals for a while and made plans to spend Christmas on the Caribbean island of Vieques. But fate had other ideas. Instead of lolling about in the sun and sipping from glasses with funny umbrellas in them, I’ll be having a “mass” removed from my abdomen.

This will be the seventh surgery I’ve had in four years and the second time I’ve spent Christmas in a hospital recovering from surgery. But, I’m not complaining. By any measurement, I have a perfect life and wouldn’t change anything. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer to spend the holidays differently but “then” and “now” could not be more different.

The first time I had surgery over Christmas, my now-ex-husband came to see me once and spent the entire visit swearing at me for being sick and playing solitaire He never once called and didn’t know I’d had surgery until I tracked him down on Christmas Day to ask him if he would give me a ride home. It was some time later that I learned he had been partying with one of his girlfriends. I also heard from his co-workers where he volunteers that he had been so worried and had left there almost daily so he could hurry over to the hospital to sit with me. Typical of him, he had been lying, to them and to me.

I have no doubt that Grey Fox will be beside me every inch of the way so, while its certainly not what I had planned for our Christmas, I am happy and so very lucky to have the love of a Real Man. Besides, he says, the Caribbean will be there next Christmas and we still have two weeks in France coming up in March.

But, my reason for this entry is to address several emails I’ve gotten from a woman who posts at an on-line community geared for victims of marital abuse.

She has said repeatedly that she does not want to take the chance that her family, or her husband’s family could follow the link from that site to this one so, just in case, I’m going to refer to her as “M”.

M has asked me to write about some of the issues she faces every day because they are so similar to the things I was dealing with in the final years before I escaped my own abusive marriage. I’ve told M that I’m not a therapist, that I have no training and that those years were the hardest and most lonely of my life. During that time, I learned a lot about people and a lot about myself. I can tell M and the other cyber-friends from that site what worked for me and what didn’t but if possible, I think it would be far better to get professional help.

Having said all that, I want to talk about some of the things she has written to me without giving any clue to her identify. I’ve talked about some of this before but I’m afraid for M and want to talk to her about the things that worry her. And, since most of the emails I get from this site concern Bran Muffin and the illustrations, I’ll also add an explanation of the substantial changes we’re making to Bran Muffin at the end of this post.

That last seems like a good place to start … Self-protection vs. isolation …

I planned for years to leave my ex-husband but without get-away money, I knew I would be helpless. So, I started saving money many years before I was finally able to leave. My very first advice to any woman who wants to escape an abusive marriage is save, save and save.

I put away five dollar bills, tens and twenties, even singles. When the opportunity presented itself, I would stuff whatever I could into my secret stash. Every once in a while, when I was alone and knew he would not be coming home for a while, I would shake all the wads of cash out onto the bed and count it. Then, feeling hopeful and courageous, I would smooth out the bills, put them in order and very neatly fit them back into my hiding place.

M, I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did. Don’t ever let him know about your stash. You need to be hard hearted and stubborn or you’ll end up trapped for years – just like I was.

It was my own fault. We would hit a rough patch and I would drag out my stash to pay for whatever it was we needed. Oddly, this was always a source of very real heartache for me. I had always thought that marriage should be a partnership and, stupidly, I believed he felt the same.

The fact is that he always had someone on the side and that’s where the money went. So, while I was just trying to stay out of his way, he was spending money on someone else.

I don’t mean that your husband has other women. I’m just saying that you need to plan your escape carefully, guard your money and keep it secret from all others, including and especially your husband.

Re-loadable credit cards can be the best friend of any woman trying to leave an abusive husband. The ones I’ve seen or used all work pretty much the same – you buy the card for x dollars and add to it as you wish. Hiding wads of cash can be difficult and these cards give you a very small, safe place to hide money. Just as cumbersome as cash is a bank account, with the added difficulty of getting the money out when you need to. The card is easy to hide. They can be tucked away and he need never know the exist.

Another advantage is that no one else ever needs to know what you’re doing. Which brings up another subject you’ve written me about – friends and family.

Boy, this is a tough one. As you have written, even though he has treated his own family as badly as he’s treated you, they seem to be blind to that when it comes to you. You may find the same is true of friends.

Been there, done that, girlfriend!

I know you’ve read my previous writing about his so won’t belabor it but it’s a simple and horribly basic truth that you cannot count on anyone except yourself. I don’t want to sound bitter but just as basic is that you will be blamed for not being able to hold your man or for making him angry enough to hurt you.

For all those years, I watched in awe as he lied and charmed the people around us. I’ve seen him lie to his clients, to the people he volunteered for and to those he worked for. He could joke and charm and reel them in with an effortless ease that truly astounded me. He’d tell the same lies over an over and still, they’d take his bait and ask for more.

M, I know you’ve read about the charm of the abuser on our site but I urge you to read http://www.drirene.com/. This ability is almost universal among abusers and it really is helpful to read the words of strangers and see that they agree so completely with your own experience.

My own experience was that as I unconsciously insulated my heart from his attacks, I also became very defensive toward others. The more I yearned for closeness, the more I pushed others away. I’ve since learned that this is very typical of the behavior of someone who is being abused but knowing that doesn’t really help you to be more open with the outside world. Or, I should say, it never helped me. I am only now beginning to open up to others but I’m still very distrusting and afraid. Sometimes I think I always will be.

Since leaving my ex-husband I have reestablished contact with some of my old friends, they have begun to understand my situation. They have told me that since I left, my ex has been telling lies about me to anyone who will listen.  He tries to make it seem as if he is the victim and that I injured him by leaving.  This is not true but just as I was silent when I was still with him, I‘m still silent now. You may find that you’re hearing the worst lies about you and there really is nothing you can do about it.

You have mentioned that you were abused as a child and as you know, I was too. This gives us both a real double whammy of hurt to try to get past. Every once in a while – and it can be months in-between, I’ll notice again, that small round scar on my throat, a cigarette burn inflicted so many years ago and then I think of all the other little round scars and it all becomes so overwhelming that I have to just go away and not think about it.

Is it the same for you? Actually, I know it is because I’ve read what you’ve written about your own childhood. Like you, I’ve spent my life trying to outrun my own history and not doing a very good job of it. Only in the past five years or so I’ve been able to admit to others that I was abused as a kid. Even now, I see that I wrote “admit” as though I was and am to blame for being abused as a child. And, indeed, on some unexplainable level, I do still feel guilt and blame. I read about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and see myself but knowing isn’t the same as being able to change.

I really was not prepared for so many things. While I had carefully worked out a place to go, I guess I was naïve to think that I could ask anyone for help. I was afraid to ask for help and, to be honest, I was ashamed. I was also careful not to put anyone else in danger of my ex’s temper or to put them in the position of having to lie for me.

Only you can decide if your own husband could become physically dangerous but don’t underestimate his anger or his need for revenge. Its better to protect yourself, your family and your friends than to put anyone in danger.

I also believed what I had heard about the sheriff or police coming to your home to stand by while you get out safely. That’s not quite the way it works in the county I left. When I went to the sheriff’s office near my home, I was told that first, I had to have previously filed a complaint against him, in that county. The officer agreed that waving a complaint in my ex’s face probably wouldn’t give me much protection and then shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t see any bruises on you now”.

In other words, law enforcement hasn’t really come very far since the days when men were allowed to beat their wives as long as the club wasn’t any bigger around than their thumb.

M, if you can, find a place to go before your home situation boils over. Don’t wait and hope he’ll change. Don’t hope that he can suddenly become what you know he is not.

If there is one thing I know, its that you cannot change another person. You can only change yourself. You are not responsible for the actions of another person but you are responsible for your own actions.

Once you make this break, don’t go back. I saw the photos of you after the last time he beat you up and M, if I could say this gently, I would. But dammit, you don’t have a marriage any more than I did. When he calls or writes and tells you he wants you back, you must be strong.

When I left my ex, he wrote long emails begging me to come back. He said ridiculous things, such as, “I competed him and he wanted the chance to prove he could complete me”. Although I didn’t say it, what I thought was, “You had 25 years to complete me. Why would I fall for such a lame line now?”.

Your husband may do some really rotten things to you. I count myself lucky that my ex did so little to me after I left. He bombarded me with porn and advertisements for such things as Viagra. A woman he volunteers with wrote me many emails about him and was also very open about being his “friend” and thought nothing of gossiping with him about me. I finally had no choice but to block both their email addresses but the porn and other spam filled my email, so I opened another email account.

You may lose many of your prized belongings. I had no choice but to leave in a hurry. I had only a couple of days notice and that was only because I overheard him tell a friend that he was going to Sante Fe, New Mexico for the weekend. I knew that was my chance and I had to take it.

As a result, I left behind many things that had emotional value to me. Later, when the dust cleared, he said he would send them to me but of course, that was just another lie. I even sent him money but it didn’t help. You need to brace yourself for the anger of someone who is accustomed to getting his own way and to being able to make your life miserable. If he cannot get revenge in his usual ways, he may find other things he can do to you.

One of the things you lose in an abusive relationship is the ability to trust your own instincts. All those years of listening to his lies – AND – listening to the lies YOU tell the outside world … It leaves a huge emotional crater in your heart and soul that will take you years to repair and refill.

You must also prepare yourself for the grief you’ll feel. Give yourself a chance to mourn the death of your marriage. I had so many dreams after I left him. In one dream, I was walking through a graveyard of my hopes and dreams. Accept that you will feel very real pain and guilt for leaving him but also understand that what you are leaving is living death for everything you value.

I remember another dream I had many years ago. It was after literally begging him to talk to me and him heaping his nasty foul language on me. I dreamed he was sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. He held our marriage in his hand and he was quietly whittling away at it with a jagged sharp knife. On the floor around him were bloody shreds of everything I had hoped for.

I know this all sounds like so much work and so wearisome to have to deal with just to get your life back. I know it feels like you’ll never see the light at the end of this miserable tunnel. But, trust me …There really does come a glorious sunshiny day when you realize you haven’t been subconsciously listening for him to come through the door, cussing and calling you the most horrible names imaginable.

There will also come a day when you start to trust people again. I smile at people now. All those years that I was snarling and afraid, I didn’t even realize what I was doing.

Finally, about Bran Muffin –

The character, me, her thoughts, my thoughts, all of it and more is evolving and growing and changing. When I first started writing from the point of view of Bran Muffin, I was so tender and raw and afraid. Its been a wonderful roller coaster since I left my ex and found real love with Gray Fox. He’s an amazing man who loves me, all of me, in ways I’ve never before been loved.

Together, we’ve been working hard new Bran Muffin illustrations and probably will not be putting them up here. The new illustrations are quite different from most of what we’ve put up here. While we have sold some designs, we both feel its time to break out and push Bran Muffin out of the nest.

There are no words to thank you all for the love and support you’ve shown us both since we began our life together.

To M, again I must say to you, if you stay where you are, you will die. You may look like you’re alive on the outside but believe me when I say, not all scars show. I know just how possible it is to put one foot in front of the other and still be dried up and dead on the inside. I hope you’ll go back in the archives and look at the very first Bran Muffin illustration on this site and know that its speaking to you. Read the message in the “Welcome” and know that can be you. You really can do it.

For GREY FOX

Last Night, I Was Breathing,
You Know, In And Out,  In And Out,
And Suddenly, I Realized That
What I Was Breathing Was You.

Two days home from the hospital.
I’m going to make it and I’ll have you to thank.

DON’T ASK – DON’T TELL

bran-black-eye-color-small2Thank you, a HUGE thank you to all who sent emails and asked what Bran Muffin is doing and why she’s been gone so long.

A year. I can’t believe its been a year since my last entry and all I can say is that between traveling and a couple of knee surgeries, a couple of oral surgeries, its been difficult to get thoughts and drawings to match. I’ve been completely immersed in a few other projects but best of all, we recently returned from a trip to London.

The London trip, including the plotting of our demise by the sheep and ravens at Stonehenge will be a future entry.  I loved the trip, loved my dear Grey Fox but the part I didn’t love is that I pretty much trashed my knee and had no choice but to wheel-chair through Heathrow and the rest of the way home.

My surgeon wanted to put off total knee replacement until I was “older” but now there’s really no choice. So – I’m scheduled for surgery tomorrow and we’ll stay at the lake for the summer. My plan (hope!) is to be mostly on my feet by the time our very much welcomed company of son, daughter in law and two gorgeous grand children arrive.

I’ll be hospitalized for 4-5 days with a morphine drip, home health nurse for several weeks as well as physical therapy at home for several weeks. I originally injured my knee 2 years ago and this surgery, the knee replacement,  will be the third surgery.

The first two surgeries were “arthroscopic” – no big incisions, and yet both hurt like the dickens. I mean, they were miserable.  Apparently, they were just a hint of what is to come. I don’t care. I’ll do whatever is necessary to get back on my feet for two trips we have planned – Christmas in Puerto Rico and two weeks in France next March.

Before the knee injury, I had already been off my feet for about two years year because of fractured bones and soft tissue injury to that same side ankle. The not so comical irony is that the torn meniscus in my knee happened because I wanted to get some exercise and fresh air. Yep. All I wanted was a walk in the beautiful country lanes around our lake house. But instead of exercise, I  added another injury and its now been three years that I’ve been unable to do anywhere near as much as I want.

I  cannot describe how I feel about my beloved husband, the man I call Grey Fox here.  Most of you know that I escaped from an abusive marriage, but I cannot imagine how I would ever have gotten through any of this if I were still with the man I left.  These past three years and now, the planning of this (hopefully) last surgery has made me remember the way my life used to be.

Grey Fox has a most loving and amazing way of seeing and knowing what will make it possible or easier for me to get around. He is never angry or abusive when I need to be in a wheelchair or when I need help with stairs or rough terrain. He has put grab bars in the shower, bought a shower chair and is always beside me with a strong arm to steady me. There are none of the endless sighs and dirty looks and he has never once used the incredibly foul language I heard almost every day for twenty five years. No pouting and no slammed doors, no blaming me for the injury I did not want and did not cause.

Grey Fox has changed my life completely. He would never dump me at a hospital with a life threatening illness. He would not lie to his friends that he was with me at the hospital when he was actually out with another woman. Grey Fox would not ignore me over Christmas or force me to have to find him to ask if he would mind taking me home two days after I had major surgery. He has been beside me, caring for me and helping me every inch of the way. And, I know he always will be.

My ex cheated on his first wife with his second and he cheated on her with me. He always said his first wife poisoned his children against him and that his children always had everything they wanted. He called his second wife “his Mexican princess” and said she was the only woman he had ever loved. And yet, he cheated on her. He always had an excuse for cheating on #1 and #2 and I suppose his excuse for cheating me is more or less the same.

Now he’s married to #4 who has the same name as his beloved “Mexican princess”.  For her sake, I hope that’s only a coincidence. My ex works with a woman who loves to gossip and loves to mix and stir. From her I learned that his new wife is not well and that he has told people she has “mental problems” and that she was recently hospitalized for a small stroke.

I’m disgusted that he would tell people these things about her and even more disgusted that his “friend” told me. But hey, this man is the Master of The Tall Tale. I have lost count of the fictional stories I’ve heard that he told about me. Maybe his new wife really does not have “mental problems” and a stroke. Maybe she’s completely healthy. Whatever the truth is, I don’t wish either of them hurt or heartache.

He wrote me so many emails – all asking me to come back, saying I “completed” him and asking for another chance to show me he could complete me. I’ve finally wised up – I no longer accept either his crazy emails or those of his gossiping “friend“. The last time I wrote him, I told him he needed to move on, get help for his anger issues – that this was surely his last chance to be happy. Maybe he’ll  take care of #4 and love her better than he loved his first three wives. Whatever he chooses, I’m just very glad I got away from him.

In an earlier entry, I told of a woman who had left her abusive husband of twenty five years.  Everyone knows that the woman I described is me. I can’t say whether or not there was ever a good reason for writing as though she was someone else but I had never before seen an adult behave like an out of control and very spoiled 2 year old, what a British friend calls “throwing his toys out of his pram”.  and that too, is related to why I am writing this. Old habits die hard and I’ve had a lot of experience in hiding the truth about him, as well as about myself.

In that earlier entry, that woman who was me described the day before her wedding, when he threw a terrifying, violent and childish tantrum. I told of the heart rending scene of his teenage daughter, shaking and crying as she feverishly cleaned up the pieces of the things he had broken before he came back. It was as if she believed if the mess was gone, his terrible temper fits would be gone as well. Forced to deal with her own father’s uncontrolled temper, she was also forced to be the adult to her father’s spoiled child. She was a child who had seen more than she should have and she told her future step mother that she would get used to his tantrums.

Through the not-so-rosy lens of 25 years, I have looked back on that day, remembered the broken litter on the living room floor and the shock of that terrifying tantrum – the first of many to come. I remembered a shaking and sobbing little child-woman who wanted and needed to be Daddy’s Little Girl but instead was daddy’s adult to his child. She and her brother both were forced to take on the duties and responsibilities of adults long before they should have.

I still have the image of her, on her knees, picking up his cigarettes and his pipe paraphernalia, looking up at me, ragged face, tears and fear, and telling me (telling herself?) that it would be okay, that I would get used to it. I was shaking and crying and needed comforting as much as she needed to be comforted. If I know nothing else, if I learned nothing else from living with him for all those years, I know that no one ever gets used to living with the constant, daily, ever-present threat of violence.

The fact is, it numbs your heart and chips big jagged holes from your soul and I can tell you the very moment I stopped crying for him and the moment when my heart began to freeze. My stark raving terror at his constant threats of leaving me, throwing me out, abandoning me kept me with him as much as my shredded love for him did but I really do remember the exact moment of the beginning of the end.

I recently told a friend that I was working on this entry and that it concerned spousal and childhood abuse. I considered talking with her about a therapy I’m involved in that addresses the life-long effect of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but thought better of it. Later, I received an email from her in which she wrote that if I wrote about certain people, others would be “very upset“.

“Upset”. That word hit me hard. Its been a while since I received the email but it had the effect of stopping me cold but leaving me standing on very familiar ground. Just as it has been my entire life, I must make a decision. Do I write honestly? Or do I protect the very people who have abused me? I am charged with Keeping The Secrets or continuing to work to heal my own wounds.  And, there’s always that bizarre and cruel notion that what the neighbors think is in the top three reasons why we should keep these secrets.

Although that’s not what I had already written about, while I was wrestling with what that question means to me, I ran smack into the other side of that very same moral dilemma.

Shopping

I despise Wal-Mart. I believe it personifies what has become the path to our country’s demise. But, I live in a small town and sometimes find I must shop there for something that none of the small, family owned businesses offer. Funny that I feel I must offer that disclaimer but damn – Wal-Mart, with the never-ending aisles of plastic junk made by under-paid and over-worked children and adults, sweatshops turning out crappy clothes for fat Americans and it‘s very public decision to cut food prices and their stated intention to drive local business into bankruptcy,  Wal-Mart represents everything that I hate about the faceless and gigantic corporation that the money-driven Republican party worships at the cost of their own souls and the livelihood of the  individual.

We’ve all seen the emails of the grotesque and cruel jokes about Wal-Mart shoppers and we all know there’s some truth to them.  Grey Fox and I, looking for a bird feeder, happy and laughing together, turned into the next aisle and there they were.

A young woman, surely not yet thirty years old, pushing her cart, two children in tow, another in the cart and a forth, apparently due any moment. Walking, no, swaggering, loose-hipped, jeans low slung, he walked with them and yet apart. He looked the quintessential redneck bum, billed cap, greasy enough that I‘d bet he slept in it, torn t-shirt with the confederate flag on the front, blue jeans and work boots. And tattoos. Of course, always tattoos.

This poor family looked like a sad caricature of Wal-Mart‘s target clientele. Rag tag clothes, dirty stringy hair, many more kids than money and then I really looked at her. The wife, mother, woman …

She was thin. Not fashionably slender. Thin. She had the kind of face you knew had once been cheerleader pretty. She wore a cotton blouse, faded and cheap looking. Jeans, not the faux faded “stonewashed” that costs a hundred bucks. Her jeans fit her when she was a size larger. Now her belt was pulled tightly enough that the old denim wrinkled and buckled at her waistline. Old worn cheap sneakers.  Dishwater blonde hair, stringy, no style and held back with children‘s barrettes.

The children didn’t behave as kids in stores so often do. They weren’t  bouncing and begging. There was no “Mommy, can I ..?“ Old clothes, cheap clothes, worn shoes and eyes cast down, they were more like zombies than pre-teenagers. I noticed a hard dark bruise on the little girl’s  arm. Later I would realize that bruise was about the right size to have been caused by a large strong man’s hand gripping her small arm but that didn’t register. Most of what I saw was a blur because of what I saw, what I knew about this young woman.

She wore no makeup and her pale skin seemed almost translucent. Her eyes seemed sunken and lifeless and her cheekbones were like shelves, jutting out from her face.  And, she had a shiner.

She had a fresh black eye but there were no dark glasses, no makeup, no attempt to cover it. She looked exhausted, beaten in more ways than one. Our eyes met for just a moment before she looked away. She looked older than she probably was but four kids and no future – except for more of the same. She was trapped.

I was stunned and then I was ashamed for staring at her. I saw her own shame and humiliation. Now, looking back, I’m angry that we shared the humiliation and shame for what was not her fault or mine. It was his, all of it, but one look told me he felt nothing at all.

His entire demeanor was that of a man who didn’t have a care in the world. I looked again at the children and her, with her list and the price comparing and the ever-watchful mother’s eye on the children. I knew without a doubt that she constantly ran interference between the children and their father. She would do that. She would have to be quick to stop him from hitting one of them – and most certainly she would take that hit herself.

Its been some weeks since seeing that woman but her eyes, her gaunt face, cheekbones and chin sharp and skin so very pale and her long skinny arms and her belly, swollen with his next victim.

I can’t help but compare her reality with the Barbie Doll vision young girls are grow up with. Did this young-but-old woman ever dream of a long diaphanous gown and a handsome young man holding his hand out to her, beckoning her to follow him into a future he could not give her … ?

I can’t think about that. Its just too painful.

A Neighborhood Picnic

Once or twice a year, we take some sort of covered dish and join our neighbors for a picnic.  Its pleasant enough but only because the conversation is light and pretty meaningless. Its like those dreaded family get-togethers that Billy Crystal described when he said that everything is fine … right up until someone asks, And just what did you mean by that?

At these picnics,  we all abide by that unspoken rule that conversations never approach anything more difficult or inflammatory than “Gee Marge, what did you put in this macaroni?” or “I’ve got just the thing for that waxy yellow buildup on your kitchen floor”.

Being vegetarian means we pick and choose and occasionally ask about ingredients but we’re quiet about it. We can’t stand the smell of cooking meat – Who knew that would become such a stomach churner? – so we sit downwind of the hamburgers and hot dogs and never once do either of us ask, “Are you sure you want your CHILD to eat that thing?”.

Its spring. The sun is warm, wildflowers carpet the meadows, the hummingbirds are back and we all share our eagle sightings. Almost everyone watches the same eagle nests and even though we know its to early to spot nestlings, we compare sightings of the parents.

We eat and talk and then I notice that the woman sitting across from me is ignoring every word from her husband. He’s solicitous, almost hovering, asking what he can get for her. She doesn’t even acknowledge his presence. She’s wearing huge dark glasses and she turns her head to answer something from the other end of the table.

And, then I saw the bruise that the dark glasses had hidden. Puffy and swollen and purple. A black eye.

They’re the complete opposite of the family in Wal-Mart. They’re house is huge, obviously expensive, they golf at the country club, they dress well and are well known in the village. We’ve heard their yelling and we know they drink heavily but this puts a whole different light on the yelling and drinking. I’m thinking there’s only one possible reason for her to be so dismissive and angry.

They’re making noises to leave and he reaches to pull her chair away from the table so she can stand. He gives his hand to her. She ignores it. He reaches for her hand. She very plainly slaps it away. He holds her car door open and puts his hand under her elbow. She furiously shrugs it away and gets into the car. He’s more than twice her size. I’m sad for what I’ve seen and I glance around at the other neighbors. I wonder if they know but they‘ve gone back to talking about the weather. If anyone else noticed, its just as likely that they would find other explanations for her black eye and her icy demeanor.  This is, after all, something that does not happen to decent people, or so we tell ourselves.

The Art Auction

My wonderfully talented Grey Wolf has designed the backdrop for an African Opera. Additionally, his paintings and rough drafts of the backdrop and the art for the advertising are offered in a silent auction. I paint too but his talent really is quite amazing and I’m proud of him.

The opera was truly wonderful, the timeless and sad story of the life of women in a male dominated culture. I liked the ending – the women were empowered and led into a brighter future by the one woman who found the courage to stand up against the customs that had kept her sisters subservient for so long. Even though I liked it, I thought of the Africa of wars and rape and genital mutilation and knew it was unrealistic. But, I’m always glad to hear a message of hope so I didn’t say what I was thinking.

At the predetermined time, the auction ended and a man asked me if he could make one final bid on one of the paintings in order to make a gift of it to the people who were responsible for bringing the opera to the United States.

I was struck by his good looks, by his JFK perfect hair and by his perfect navy blue suit. He was quite charming, the kind of man who puts you at ease. His demeanor and his clothing all spoke quietly of money and I really was put in mind of a politician. Or an insurance salesman.

What a really generous gesture, I said. He looked at the highest bid and wrote in a figure that was a couple of hundred dollars more. I handed the bid sheet to the person in charge and, since I had decided to forego the wheelchair and was walking with a cane, I felt very vulnerable in the crowd and inched over to join his wife against the wall.

I turned to make small talk and under her heavy makeup, there it was. An old bruise next to her eye. It was like a knife to my heart. In a horrible blinding flash, I was silently screaming that I don’t want to see this anymore. I don’t want to know about it. I want to pretend it doesn’t happen but damn –

I was trying to think of something to say instead of the compliment I was about to give her husband. Really shaken, looking around at people dressed in their bright and shiny clothes, I fumbled with my cane and she reached for it at the same moment I did and I saw diamonds on her fingers and wanted to cry.

We stood there against the wall, Mrs. Handsome Hail Fellow Well Met and me. There were photos, my husband with the very talented African woman who sang the lead in the opera.  Watching the man with the perfect politician hair and the perfect suit and I was struck by the incongruous clash between her bruise and the storyline of the opera.

One Man

I saw the bruise on his arm and when I asked, he avoided my eyes, shrugged it off and looked as though he wanted to escape any more questions. It took time but one day he told me of being stabbed with a pen, having things thrown at him and, in a fit of uncontrolled anger, of her trying to stab him with a kitchen knife.

The abuse of women by their men is sadly under-reported. We know and accept that as truth. But, I’ve learned that men are abused too and, difficult though it may be to believe, its possible that its just as common.

Women are often hit and worse by men who are bigger than they are. In a way, its almost worse for a man because he can never ever hit back.  Oh the other hand, I once read that men who kill their wives or girlfriends serve an average of seven years I prison. Almost all women who kill their abuser get a life sentence.

In the space of only a few weeks, I have seen three women and one man who have appeared to have been physically abused by their spouses. It’s a tiny microcosm of the worst in man/woman relationships, an unscientific sampling of anger and pain. I am haunted by these people. I could have found a way to ask if I could help. I could have let each of them know I understood and cared and was willing to help in whatever way they wanted.

But I didn’t say a word.

When I was a child, I remember that a friend of my mother’s asked me why I was limping and walking “that way“. I interpreted her question as sympathy, broke down in sobs and showed her the bruises on my legs. If I close my eyes, I can still see the disapproving scowl on her face but it was me that she disapproved of. She was rough, hurting my shoulders,  turning me around, yanking my dress down over the bruises and scolding me. She said I should be ashamed of being disloyal to the “mother who brought me into this world”. Like it was yesterday, I remember that it stung and hurt all over again when she hit the bruises on my bottom and sent me outside to play.

Another memory, a Sunday school teacher who wore too much makeup and always seemed to be angry at me. I must have been very young when I made up a story about a friend whose mother beat her and asked the Sunday school teacher what I should do. She told me that all children lie and that I should read the Bible and pray for my lying friend. From about the age of 13 or 14, I never again went to church and never will again.

I wised up as I got older and I learned how to hide my feelings and my bruises. Though it was not a conscious decision and I did not understand the consequences, I built a wall of anger against anyone and everyone. I have kept so many secrets and each secret was easier to keep than the one before. I thought I was keeping secrets to protect myself but really, the secrets only protected the people who hurt me.

Its easy to know that in an intellectual way but knowing does not automatically change everything else.

A pleasant surprise is that I’ve stopped cussing. All those years of my ex-husband’s nasty gutter mouth had me cussing too. Nothing like what he used to say to me but still, I had quite a mouth on me. I don’t blame him for that. Just because he’s got a trash mouth doesn’t mean it was okay for me to use foul language. But I did and it has been just one more real and true joy that I don’t have to listen to that any more.

Twenty five years of a marriage that was never a  marriage and I never told anyone until I was very close to being able to leave. When I told the one friend who I desperately needed to hear my voice, the one person I wanted to trust, she didn’t believe me. That will always hurt but now I know that’s not uncommon – abusers are usually very nice people on the outside. No one ever heard my ex’s horrible language or saw his tantrums. They never heard what he said about them behind their back.  All they saw was a great guy, personable and friendly. Ask most of our friends and they would have described us as Mr. & Mrs. Peachy Keen America.

All those years with him and what I remember is that I would have given anything for one person I could talk to. Just one person who knew and loved me anyway.

And yet, when I had the opportunity to hold my hand out to four different people who I knew were trapped in that same horribly lonely place, I was silent.

If I had been asked … If someone had seen through my brittle façade, its very likely that I would have brushed them aside. I would have denied his abuse.

If I had asked any of the three women about their black eyes, I have no doubt they would have glanced toward their husband, fearing he might hear and then, they would have denied the truth. They would have made some flimsy excuse about running into a door.

We don’t ask and we don’t tell. And the abusers win.

T M I

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TMI

“The world is too big for us, too much is going on, too many crimes, too much violence and excitement. Try as you will, you get behind in the race in spite of yourself. it’s a constant strain to keep pace … and still, you lose ground. Science empties its discoveries on you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless bewilderment. The political world is news seen rapidly, you’re out of breath trying to keep pace with who’s in and who’s out. Everything is high pressure. Human nature can’t endure much more.”
Atlantic Journal
June 16, 1883

A hundred years later, Richard Saul Wurman wrote this in his book, Information Anxiety: “A weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in seventeenth-century England”.

Last week, we watched on television as our astronauts repaired the Hubble Telescope but I remember reading that when the automobile was first invented, some scientists and medical professionals feared that the human body could not withstand moving at such a high rate of speed – some 25 miles per hour. My cell phone is indispensable part of my life and yet I recently read that half of the world’s population will never make or receive a telephone call.

According to the Columbia Journalism Review, in 2006, the world produced 161 exabytes of digital information. (An exabyte is 1 quintillion bytes). To grasp the perspective of that little factoid, that’s 3 million times the information contained in all the books ever written. By 2010 (yes, that’s next year), that number is expected to reach 988 exabytes. (A show of hands please … Does anyone actually understand those numbers and what they mean to our everyday lives?)

A friend recently said, “I’m feeling world-news weary these days. It seems like there just is no answer“.

I suspect a lot of us are suffering from much more than an information overload. Much of the problem, as I see it, is that we have no way of easily recognizing fact from fiction.

I start most days with news on BBC and CNN.

(Bran Muffin’s Pet Peeve – Why do so many of the so-called journalists look like they’re heading out to a cocktail party? And, why can’t they find clothes in their size? When did we forget what a real journalist is supposed look like or how they are supposed to behave? I watch the news and yearn for Walter Cronkite and news you could actually trust.)

Along with cable TV news, I’m a huge fan of National Public Radio and I read parts of several newspapers on my computer. And yet, if you were to ask me to tell you how or where I find the difference between information, disinformation and misinformation, I would not be able to tell you a source for reliable answers.

The reason? Agendas. Everyone has one. Just like the Wizard of Oz, every news story has someone behind the curtain trying to sell you their product, get their candidate elected, persuade you their product/person is better than the other guy‘s. When I hear someone demand an “unbiased source”, I have to chuckle. There’s no such thing as an unbiased source. There never has been, never will be.

Added to the so-called “hard news” is the fluff like email chain letters. Out of all the hundreds of email chain letters I’ve received, I would estimate that no more than 1 or 2% of these ubiquitous annoyances have any basis in fact.

If I wanted to get rich, I’d set up a post office box and start chain letter asking for donations to pay for surgery to cure a little girl’s brain tumor. Sounds ridiculous, but that’s only one of many nonsensical chain letters that clog our email boxes and increase the spam. Apparently it has been a fairly lucrative ploy because the oldies but goodies show up again every few years. Another one that paid well for a while was the “send money to Nigeria so you can claim the huge inheritance left to you by a rich uncle”.

I recently received a chain email that explained in great detail what the folding of our flag signified. I usually delete these without reading them but our Constitution took a real beating during the eight years of the past presidency so my curiosity was piqued.
None of the elaborate drawings of the folding of our flag had a basis in fact any more than the plea to write your congressman to demand that we keep our “God given rights” and that, ”…our Pledge of Allegiance remain as it was written: ‘… one nation, under God…’.”

I’m certain that most people who gave it any thought would realize that no one’s god “gave” us our rights. Our Constitution, including the First Amendment which guarantees the freedom of religion, as well as the separation of church and state, was fought for with the blood of thousands of men and women. And, of course, the phrase “under god” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance by the Catholic Knights of Columbus in 1951.

Our founding fathers are rolling over and over in their graves!

To anyone who has been taken in by these chain letters … Don’t feel bad. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t fallen for it at least once. What’s important is to take the minute or two that it takes to find out if there is any truth to your chain letter BEFORE you send it to others. Two of my favorite sources are …
http://www.breakthechain.org/
http://www.snopes.com/

Additionally, please always remove the old forwarding addresses and use the BCC function in your email program for anything you do forward. And be kind and considerate enough to inform the person who sent it to you that the piece is fiction. Not only does this save more people from being embarrassed, it also helps to cut down on the spam that clogs so many email accounts.

Whether its “hard news” or chain letters, what is troubling is that fiction often wins out over fact. And we never even know it. While most of us have access to fact and fiction via the internet, we have no way of knowing if what we read and hear every day is true.

We are facing global warming, global financial collapse, gas prices that change daily, health and education systems in shreds, credit card companies who get away with loan shark tactics and more. While our sitting president struggles to pull our country together, an ultra conservative talk show entertainer apparently carries more weight with his party than our ex-president.

What does all this mean?

Heck if I know.

Guess I’ll go read The Onion.

BE KIND TO ANIMALS WEEK

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These are baby pictures of Czar who was adopted from a shelter. He was a happy baby and loved goofin’ in the snow. You can see his grand and elegant adult pictures down below.

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Don’t be fooled by their grace, beauty and the air of innocence that all but hangs in the air over Skip and Brodie in the first photo ….

The explosion of covers and cats happened about 3 seconds after the second photo was taken.

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While I believe we should always be kind and compassionate to any and all animals, the American Humane Association has designated the first full week of May as a time to appreciate animals. Both dogs and cats have been worshiped in some societies, a fact that most cats seem to remember.

During the 11th century, a dog named Saur was named King of Norway by the actual ruler who was angry with his subjects for having once deposed him.

English writer, Samuel Johnson fed his favorite cat, Hodge, fresh oysters ever day and U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt invited the extra-toed cat, Slippers, to diplomatic dinners.

Our pound pup and rescued cats have never been to a diplomatic dinner and will certainly never sit on a real throne but they seem to have done okay for themselves.

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Another Earth Day has come and gone and I find myself remembering the first one – Wednesday, April 29, 1970. We were so young and naive. On that momentous day I remember so very well the excitement we all felt. I remember that we actually believed that if people knew how important a balanced environment is, they would immediately set out to make the changes in their own lives to help mitigate the damage we all do every day to our Mother Planet Earth. Now, almost 40 years later, we know that our mindless consumption is leading to the death of our planet. We watch Nobel Prize winner Al Gore’s film Inconvenient Truth, and we read about weather changes around the world. We see videos of glaciers disappearing and icebergs shrinking. But we also listen to the very same skepticism of forty years ago and watch the very same corporate executives line their pockets at the expense of their own grand children.

I also see signs of hope. I see people buying compact fluorescent light bulbs and reusable shopping bags and fuel efficient or even hybrid cars and stainless steel water bottles instead of plastic disposables. When I take my trash container out to the curb, I think about what I have thrown away and know that even though it seems to magically disappear, it has actually become a part of my own carbon footprint, my legacy, one more scar I’ll leave behind and I try to buy use and accordingly. For example, I try not to buy anything “disposable” because, in reality, that’s just another word for “forever”.

Some examples of how long it takes our trash to decompose –

Paper, 2 to 5 months
Orange peels, 6 months
Milk cartons, 5 years
Filter-tip cigarettes, 10 to 12 years
Plastic bags, 10 to 20 years
Leather shoes, 24 to 40 years
Plastic containers, 50 to 80 years
Disposable diapers, 75 years
Tin cans, 100 years
Aluminum cans, 200 to 500 years
Styrofoam, never

I’ve heard people talk about feeling helpless to make real and meaningful changes. But, the one thing that is easy to do and without a doubt makes the biggest difference in our contribution to global warming is going vegetarian. Like the health cost of smoking cigarettes, this has been known for generations. But, like cigarettes, the huge corporations that produce the meat we eat spend billions every year to persuade us to continue to eat a substance that contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, liver and kidney disease and does more to keep us dependent on foreign oil than driving a gas hog SUV. That’s right … driving a gas guzzler does less environmental damage than eating beef.

From 80 to 95% of the grains we grow are fed to livestock. While an acre of prime land produces 20,000 pounds of potatoes, that same acre produces only 165 pounds of edible beef.

More than half of the land used for agriculture in the United States is used to grow beef. Most beef consumed in the US is “finished” at a feedlot where it will require more than 16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce only one pound of edible flesh.

Chicken and pork are also incredibly wasteful and environmentally expensive … It takes 5 pounds of protein feed to produce one pound of protein in the form of chicken and almost 8 pounds of protein is fed to hogs to get back one pound of edible protein.

Each year we lose cropland equal to the size of Connecticut due to soil erosion. More than 85% of the topsoil lost is directly related to raising livestock. Every 5 seconds, we lose another acre of trees but switching to a complete vegetarian diet would save that acre.

Its long been known that we are destroying our tropical rain forests at an astounding rate. Often called the lungs of our planet because most of our oxygen is produced there, the American meat habit is responsible for most of that decimation. Every year, while 75% of Central American children go to bed hungry, the U.S. imports 300,000,000 pounds of meat from Central and South America. The worlds rain forests are being leveled and species are going extinct at the rate of more than 1000 a year just to raise beef for the US..

More than half of all water used for all purposes in the United States is for livestock production. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce one pound of wheat while a pound of meat requires 2500 gallons. The production of just one cow requires enough water to float a destroyer.

The methane produced by cattle and other livestock has been in the news lately but that’s not the only reason we should be concerned about the back-end of so-called “food” animals. While human beings in the U.S put out 12,000 pounds of excrement every second, U.S. livestock produce in excess of 250,000 pounds per second. Modern day sewage systems are common for human use but no such thing exists for livestock excrement. Instead, it ends up fouling our streams, rivers and groundwater.

There are other reasons not to eat meat. Namely, your own health and the mind-numbing cruelty that is inherent to the industry. But the biggest reason not to eat meat is our children and the planet we will leave to them.

If you doubt that switching to a vegetarian diet really will make a difference, consider this: The amount of all raw materials (base products of farming, forestry and mining – including fossil fuels) consumed by the U.S. that are devoted to the production of livestock is in excess of 33%. A vegetarian diet requires only 2% of those same raw materials.

Going vegetarian is deceptively easy. Start by simply not eating animals. There are countless websites and cookbooks that teach a healthy and VERY tasty way of eating. Enjoy it. Make it an adventure that your entire family can share.

Don’t look on vegetarianism as giving up something. You’re really not. If you choose a meat-based diet, you have only four things to build a meal around. Cow, chicken, pig and fish. If you go vegetarian, the options and varieties are literally endless.

My main source the facts in this essay is John Robbin’s Pulitzer nominated book, Diet For A New America. More can be found in Kathy Freston’s excellent writings on the Huffington Post … An Earth Day Reflection On The Breathtaking Effects Of Cutting Back On Meat and One Bite at a Time: A Beginner’s Guide to Conscious Eating

SUITCASES FILLED WITH COURAGE

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I don’t often put words to it – maybe none of us do – but living takes courage. Since writing about not always being able to face our problems with a ROAR below, I’ve been thinking about my friends and the Dragons all of us face each and every day of our lives. The more I think of the terribly painful details they’ve entrusted me with, the more I feel overwhelmed with the pride for their courage.

I have a dear friend whose husband may be showing the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Or perhaps its something else. The doctors can’t say for sure. If the worst happens, the economy, her age and her own precarious health would make it all but impossible for her to support them both. She seldom lets on just how much the future worries her but I know its there, in the back of her mind, like a spider building its web.

Another friend whose own health problems are piled high on top of the problems of her children. She recently told me, in such a heartbreakingly off-hand way, that she feared for her own future. She said what we all eventually say – that as she ages, she wants to be able to be as independent as she now and go on living in her own home. If she became unable to care for herself, they would care for her if they could but its unlikely they could.

I’ve actually heard people say they had children so there would be someone to take care of them in their so-called golden years but the temptation to make some bad joke about tarnished gold is almost more than I can resist. It doesn’t matter how you raise your children. I have no doubt that she would lay down her life for her kids but there comes comes a day when all of us, parents and kids alike, are on our own.

I’ve recently talked with my friend, a dear man whose beloved wife has grown cold over the years and who, finally, in utter and complete desperation, took a lover. Its his own wife he wants but she is indifferent to his needs. Too many years of sleeping alone next to her have finally driven him to the unthinkable and he is angry and bitter. I know a woman who, after fifteen years of forced celibacy, took a lover. She once told me she used to believe that one of the reasons for marriage was to marry one’s lover. She too had become angry and bitter at all the years of being pushed away.

And the woman I spoke of in an earlier post … raised by a very abusive mother and then inexplicably stayed married to an abusive man for 25 years. One day, she looked in the mirror and knew she had to get out. She saved her money and bided her time and then, one weekend when she overheard him tell a friend he would be away, she made a run for it. As I mentioned below, she has since married a man who loves her and keeps her safe, and yet she still has nightmares that her ex-husband will suddenly appear and beat her senseless.

The most courageous man I’ve ever known cared for his wife through nine years of a losing battle with cancer. He made sure that no one, not even his family or close friends ever knew just how exhausted he was or much he was hurting. When he reads this, he will surely scuff his toe in the dirt and say, “You do what you have to do”. I admire his strength and courage but his pain is palpable when he talks about the mental and emotional cost is of ‘doing what you have to’. And, of course, the financial result of a catastrophic illness is nothing short of devastating and it is very likely he will never recover.

A good friend whose job is wearing her down to a bruised shadow of the passionate and happy woman she is underneath. There’s nothing she can do. She dares not resign but going to her job every day is slowly killing her.

Another friend, bright and so much younger than her calendar says she is. She struggles every day to hold on to what she has and to make new opportunities for herself. Though she is far too proud and stubborn to admit it, she too worries about what her future holds for her .

So many of the people I know have lost some part of their hard-earned money. Some in the form of falling real estate values, some are watching their investments dwindle and some have even lost their jobs. Do any of us believe that our president of only three months can magically fix the damage of so many years of greed and dishonest wheeling and dealing we now know went on behind the closed doors of the Oval Office? No … I’m very afraid we’re in for a long hard time of it as are our children and their children. That is the legacy of the last eight years.

There’s an old story about people meeting on a street corner with all their troubles packed in suitcases. As the story goes, they all exchange their suitcases for those of others, and each opens and examines the contents and, without exception choose to take back their own suitcases.

Some days we’re able to stand up to our dragons and some days we keep our head down and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Some days we can barely stand to read the news for fear of yet another family being wiped out by one of their own or another innocent child disappearing or more signs of our own planet’s eventual death at our hands. But, in spite of heartbreak and fear and watching our hard-earned financial futures seem to melt away, we can still hear the birds sing and, corny as it may sound, we still stop for a moment to listen when a child laughs. In the face of all of that and more, we all keep going because, finally, what else can we do?.

For the friends mentioned here and for those I have not described, I wish all of us the strength and courage to look their dragons in the eye and know we can Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway!

THREE WOMEN

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THREE WOMEN

When I was very young, I knew two women who killed themselves.

The first was very beautiful, very intelligent, witty and educated and loved by a man who was just as smart, educated, witty and handsome as she. They were in college together and planned to be married as soon as they graduated. Everyone knew they would both be very successful in their chosen careers.

Karen was the sort that plain women, like myself, envied. The phrase that always came to mind was that her smile lit up the room. People gravitated to her and he gazed at her with obvious adoration. Who would not want a life as blessed and charmed as hers seemed to be?

And then one day she visited her parent’s home, broke into her father’s gun cabinet and, tying a length of string to her toe, managed to blow her beautiful face to pieces by putting the barrel of a shotgun under her chin and pulling the trigger.

A couple of years later, I went to live in New York City and, rents being out of reach, I lived in a women’s residence that catered to tall, skinny dancers who attended Julliard and tall, skinny models hoping for that one big break that would assure their success.

Her name was Mitzi and she was from Ohio or Idaho or maybe it was Colorado. She ate almost nothing and dreamed of seeing her face on the cover of one or another fashion magazine. One night she knocked on my apartment door but could not say why. She held a compact and mechanically brushed powder on her face. I invited her in but she said she was on her way out to an “important party.”

Later that same night I was awakened by sirens but it wasn’t until the next day that I learned that sometime during the night, she had jumped from her apartment window. I was terrified and beyond sad to see her shattered compact laying in the street near to where her body had been found.

The third young woman did not kill herself. But neither did she live.

Her earliest memories were of being hurt by the very people charged with her well being. From them, she learned she was homely and clumsy and slow witted and doomed to a life of lonely failure. She once overheard her mother lamenting to her aunt that her sisters had attributes that would stand them in good stead when the time came for husband hunting. One would make a good wife and have babies while the other was pretty and so neither would have any trouble attracting a decent breadwinner.

‘But, her mother whined, what could be done about the third daughter?’

As though it could fix what was wrong with her, she was beaten – physically and mentally, and deprived of the most basic caring that her siblings took for granted. From this she learned how to not love or be loved. She learned how to smile and lie and hide her scars. More than anything else she learned how to settle.

I wonder how many of us settle. How many of us don’t believe we deserve what we want and need and so we take what ever comes down the road? How many of us live ‘lives of quiet desperation’, making the best of it and never knowing how to live any other way?

I don’t think very often of those two perfect and beautiful young women whose private desperations drove them to end their lives. There is no way for me to ever be able to know or understand whether it takes more courage to go on, day after day, or more to say Bye, and fold it up.

I’m just very glad there is something inside most of us that makes it possible for us to wake up every morning and think, “I’ll try again today”.

BORIS and NATASHA

Boris ... International Spy and Neutered Playboy

Boris ... International Spy and Neutered Playboy

Natasha ... Beautiful and Mysterious Spayed Playgirl

Natasha ... Beautiful and Mysterious Spayed Playgirl

This is a very serious subject among cat lovers but I couldn’t help but share these photos of  Skip and Brodie snuggled under the warm laundry, fresh from the dryer.

I’ve had several emails, wondering what has happened to Bran Muffin. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, she has been undergoing some changes but should return in the next couple of days.

And now for

    The Claw Clipping Caper

A few days ago, we took Skip and Brodie to the vet for their regular checkup and vaccines, or, as they call it, “the day they get man-handled into their carriers for an unwelcome car trip to a place that reeks of other animals of less than royal heritage and then, hauled out of the carrier, one at a time and tortured by a complete stranger for no apparent reason”. They both got an excellent bill of health although we’re a little concerned about the wear and tear on Skip’s remaining shoulder because he has only one front leg. Though originally a stray, we believe he’s Maine Coon and he’s enormous, meaning even more wear and tear on that remaining shoulder. He’s now on daily meds to help keep the cartilage of that shoulder strong and healthy. He refers to this daily additive to his food as “that disgusting garbage I must try to eat around”.

As we were waiting at the front desk to check out, a young woman came in with a beautiful cat, hardly more than a kitten, charcoal gray with stunning yellow eyes. The poor little guy’s front feet were swollen and, in some places, bleeding. I assumed he had gotten his feet caught in some sort of machinery but when I asked, she said no, he had been declawed some weeks back and they had never completely healed. She said he had other problems because of his excruciatingly painful feet – such as refusing to use the litter box and chronic tendonitis. The vet feared he was developing scoliosis as well.

I’ve worked with dog and cat rescue for more than 30 years and know that this poor cat’s condition is not at all unusual. The cat’s owner was in tears and said the vet had told her she may have no choice but to euthanize the poor mutilated cat.

I’ve always had cats and never had problems because of their claws. These photos of Skip and Brodie were taken about an hour after we had clipped their claws. As you can see, they don’t look so terribly traumatized. Claw clipping takes only a few minutes and requires no special equipment or expertise.

What follows is Bran Muffin’s Never Fail Cat Claw Clipping Instructions:

If you’ve ever clipped the nails of a toddler, you know that even though they can’t feel a thing, some kids think they’re being killed at nail clipping time. The same can be true sometimes with cats.

Use your regular toe nail clippers and having a helper is a good idea. The person doing the actual clipping holds the cat in the spooning position – that is, the cat’s back is to your front and the cat is facing away from you and toward our helper. Your helper does NOT try to force the cat to hold still. The harder you hold the cat, the harder he’ll fight you. As it is, even cats who are accustomed to claw clipping often fight back a bit.

The holder very gently holds back feet, rubs and tickles the tummy, talks to to the cat and just generally does what he can to distract the cat from the Real Goings On. While the cat is distracted, the cutter takes one front paw at a time and very gently squeezes at the juncture of the large middle pad and a toe. The claw will pop right out to be easily clipped off.

When you’re first learning this, don’t try to take off very much at a time. Better to have to do it more often than to chance cutting into the quick of the claw. Generally, you want to cut off only the razor sharp hook at the tip. If the cat is very upset by the new experience, do one or two claws, stop, pet the cat, talk, distract and comfort before continuing. Or, just let the cat go and wait until later to do a few more. Be sure you clip off the “thumb” or dew claw as well but don’t bother with the back feet.

Its easiest to start claw clipping while your cat is still a kitten but I’ve taught older cats to put up with the indignity of it all and even had one who would use his free front foot to bat at the clippings as they flew off his toes.

If you feel strongly that you want a cat that is declawed, please do some research first. Most cats suffer mightily from his horrid mutilation that is now illegal in Great Britain. Happily, more and more vets in the United States are refusing to declaw as well as dock tails and ears of puppies. Hopefully, these barbaric procedures will someday be illegal in the US as well. If, after you do your homework, you still feel your couch is more valuable than your cat, please adopt a declawed cat from your local shelter. Many of them do end up there because of physical and mental problems related to the declawing. If you adopt a cat who has already been declawed, you will be saving a life.

Nothing to see here …

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“No, nothing to see here at all. Move along. We’re being very good kittens. No reason for you to wonder what’s going on in this room or why we’re so quiet.”

(Sorry for the poor quality of this photo. They just look SO sweetly innocent, I had to share it with you. A phrase I’ve heard to describe cats is that they’re innocent of everything except their nature. I think that is true of every creature, humans included. That’s Skip in front with his older and now much smaller sister Brodie in back.)

THE GIRL EFFECT

I’ve added a new link, THE GIRL EFFECT. Please take few minutes to explore this site. If you start by clicking on “agree” on the opening page, you’ll hear beautiful music accompanied by a seemingly simplistic point of view.

While each of us worries about our own little corner of the world, its so easy to forget that fully 50% of the world’s population will never even make a telephone call.

As our president said last night, its up to all of us to work together to make a difference – not just for ourselves but for the entire world.

Let it start with me, in my own back yard.

What if we each thought that? And what if our actions reflected the desire to help? Help ourselves and help those less fortunate than ourselves.

And, help the girls in developing countries around the world.

Please take a little time to read that site.

Thank You.

Thanks Molly

Bran Muffin has been undergoing some pretty massive changes these past few weeks but she’ll soon be back, stronger and happier than ever. In the mean time, I wanted to share this with you …

Just when you least expect it …

500brodieskip

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As we were leaving the house one day, we got a telephone call from the veterinarian who cares for our dog.  We had mentioned to her that we might be interested in fostering orphan kittens at some future time, however the vet was calling to ask if we would be interested in adopting a kitten that her office had just received from the animal shelter.  The kitten had a problem, she told us, he had a nerve-damaged paw which might have to be amputated if the kitten didn’t recover the use of it soon.  We looked at each other and without a word of discussion agreed that we would stop by the vet’s office to “consider” adopting the kitten.

When the little guy was brought out he limped right up to us as well as his three usable paws would hold him, announced “Meow!” and insisted on climbing up into our arms. It was obvious that he had chosen us, so we couldn’t say no.

The veterinarian told us that the entire staff was in love with the kitten and that one of her young assistants had already named him “Skip.”  Trying not to think of the expense of amputation, we said we would happily adopt Skip, and that we’d stop to pick him up on our return trip from town.

Life is full of surprises.  On the way to town, as we were driving across a busy four-lane bridge over the lake, suddenly Bran said, “Oh my god!  That’s a kitten…!”  She had spotted a kitten, paralyzed with terror,  huddled against the concrete bridge rail as cars zoomed by on the busy highway not three feet away.

We turned our car around on the other side of the bridge, drove back and parked.  We hailed a passing police car to turn on his lights to run cover for us and then made our way out onto the bridge on the narrow curb.  As we reached the kitten she panicked and tried to dive down one of the storm drain holes which would have dropped her fifty feet into the lake.  If that had happened, there would have been nothing we could have done except watch her drown. But Bran is experienced in animal rescue and she was able to catch the kitten and pull her back up out of the drain.

We drove back to our veterinarian’s office with the kitten huddled in Bran’s arms. The kitten was cold and frightened, and had several lacerations on her face. We surmised that someone had tried to throw her off the bridge from a moving car, but had missed and hit the concrete bridge rail instead.

Our veterinarian examined her.  Besides being terrified, malnourished and bruised, the vet said what the poor little girl needed was loving care. We named the kitten Brodie after the man alleged to have survived a jump from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Brodie and Skip now live with us, or rather we live with them.  Skip’s front leg did indeed have to be amputated but he gets along just fine with three legs. It turns out that he’s probably a Maine Coon Cat, very large, with fluffy fur and huge feet.

In the photos, you can see that little Skip is the baby and was much smaller than Brodie. Even though he’s bigger than Brodie now, she’s still the boss. They were best friends from the start and now play and chase and sleep together. Brodie is sleek and beautiful and knows she’s royalty while Skip is the Court Jester.

Putting up with all of their shenanigans with amazing equanimity is our very special shelter dog, Czar, a Collie-Shepard mix with abundant patience for hyperactive kittens.

If you come to visit, don’t wear dark-colored nice clothing, and do expect to have to move a dog or cat from the most comfortable chair before you can sit down. And if you stay overnight in the guest room expect to be visited by cats who like to play “pounce the toes under the covers.”

If you’re thinking about adding a life-long friend to your home, please adopt from a shelter. We’ve never regretted adopting three of society’s cast offs, they’ve enriched our lives and we feel privileged to have them. All of our pets have been altered of course, and all three are vaccinated and micro-chipped. As mentioned in the earlier post, millions of dogs and cats, puppies and kittens are killed in shelters in the United States.  Shelters wish they could be no-kill, but few shelters have the budget to provide for the number of abandoned animals that keep coming.  Fully 25% of those killed are “pure breeds” and more than 87% are younger than three years old. You’ll never be sorry for saving a life and for knowing that you’re part of the solution and not a part of the problem of dog and cat over-population.

At the top of this entry, I mentioned we were considering being foster parents for orphaned kittens (and puppies). If you’re not sure about the animal you wish to adopt, or if you just happen to love puppies and kittens the way we do, fostering can be very satisfying and just plain fun. Call your local shelter and ask if they have a foster program. Many shelters send orphans home with foster families to be loved and fed and socialized. Families with kids are often good at fostering because the children give the animals all the play and attention they need, and its a good way of teaching kids responsibility for pets. At a pre-determined age or state of health, the foster family brings the orphan pets back to be put up for adoption.  Kittens and puppies who have been in foster homes are almost always adopted because they are happy and know that they are loved, and they’re ready to go into a new home. Its a win-win situation for everyone involved.

— Bran Muffin and Gray Fox

New Year’s Resolution

Whether your pet is “purebred” or mixed, there are no reasons – except expense – not to alter your dog and cat. There are millions of healthy dogs and cats, puppies and kittens killed every year in shelters across the country for the very simple reason that there are more born than there are homes for.

Please, don’t put it off any longer. If you can’t afford it, most larger metropolitan cities have low to no cost spay neuter programs. Call your local animal control or humane society for information. If your area does not offer low cost altering, go to http://www.spayusa.org/ and click on “Locate a clinic”. Also try http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/where_to_have_your_pet_spayed_or_neutered.html and/or http://www.felinefido.com/low-cost-spay-neuter.html.

If none of those resources are able to help you, PLEASE save a few dollars every month until you can afford to have it done. Your pet will be healthier and live a longer and happier life if he or she is altered.

Please, be a responsible pet owner – Do not breed.

Spay or Neuter your dog or cat – because you love him.

Doin’ Anything Next Saturday?

I knew a woman once who loved a man who had a very volatile, hair-trigger temper. The day before they were to be married, he threw a terrible temper tantrum. As her British friend would have described it, he spent an hour throwing his toys out of the pram.

She never knew what had brought it on. She only knew how terrified she was that he would turn his temper on her. His teenage daughter was there and the woman later described the heartbreak she felt watching the young girl frantically cleaning up a broken lamp and the other debris the man left when he slammed out of the house.

The young daughter sobbed as she told the woman that after a lifetime of his uncontrolled tantrums, she had become used to it and, as his wife, the woman would too. It did not seem to occur to either of them that if that were true, the daughter would not be sobbing and shaking.

This woman was not stupid. If you had asked her, she would have said that she did not expect marriage to change his basic nature. She knew that such things as a pregnancy or a change in geography will never be the deciding factor in the maturity of two people in a marriage. Nor was this the first time he had yelled and thrown things, breaking her belongings and behaving like a spoiled child.

In spite of her own small voice screaming in her ear, she married him the next day and so embarked on a marriage marked by his sullen silent treatment interspersed by violent outbursts. As the years passed, it only got worse. There were times when he hardly spoke for days on end and violently pushed her away when she tried to hug him. There was, of course, no sex to speak of and, looking back, she realized he had begun pulling away from her almost as soon as they married.

She was desperately lonely and often wondered if he was as well. He refused to listen or partake of any kind of intimate conversation and finally, after many years, she simply shut down. She worked hard to stop wanting and caring. She worked so hard to harden her heart to him that she stopped feeling much of anything at all. He had brought her to hysterical tears so many times and one day, she swore to herself that he would never make her cry again, that he would never ever see her cry. And, he never did.

Finally, but only after more than 25 years of a sham marriage, she left him. She remarried – to a gentle and loving man who knew and understood that not all scars show on the outside, and they set about living the kind of life they had both dreamed of for their whole lives.

The real question however is simply this … If it is true that this woman was not a fool who believed she could change her former husband’s inexcusably immature and violent nature and if its true that she had seen his tantrums before she walked down the aisle with him, WHY did she marry him?

She had been raised by a family who had abused her and part of the reason for settling for a man who also abused her was simply that she didn’t know she deserved better. That was surely part of the reason but I wonder if some couples get married for no other reason than they have no place else to be that day.

That sounds so very ridiculous but perhaps its really not. All relationships are living breathing things that change and grow. Whether we like it or not, change is inevitable and the inescapable growth is not always in the direction we would like or even expect.

There comes a time in most relationships when a decision must be made. There’s that long and agonizing moment when each looks at the other and both know they cannot go backward and they can’t stay where they are. And sometimes, even if there is no real base to build on, being alone is a lot more frightening than moving forward.

Sometimes, people get married because there’s no place else to go.

My Thanks to Ann for this poem

If I were ol’ Santa, you know what I’d do;
I’d dump silly gifts that are given to you,
and deliver some things just inside your front door,
things you have lost, but treasured before.

I’d give you back all your maidenly vigor,
and to go along with it, a neat tiny figure.
Then restore the old color that once graced your hair,
before rinses and bleaches took residence there.

I’d bring back the shape with which you were gifted,
so things now suspended need not be uplifted.
I’d draw in your tummy and smooth down your back
until you’d be a dream in those tight fitting slacks.

I’d remove all your wrinkles and leave only one chin,
so you wouldn’t spend hours rubbing grease on your skin.
You’d never have flashes or queer dizzy spells
and you wouldn’t hear noises like ringing of bells.

No sore aching feet and no corns on your toes;
no searching for spectacles when they’re right on your nose.
Not a shot would you take in your arm, hip or fanny
from a doctor who thinks you’re a nervous old granny.

You’d never have a headache, so no pills would you take
and no heating pad needed since your muscles won’t ache.
Yes, if I were Santa, you’d never look stupid.
You’d be a cute little chick with the romance of cupid.

I’d give a lift to your heart when those wolves start to whistle
and the joys of your heart would be light as a thistle.
But alas! I’m not Santa. I’m simply just me;
the matronliest of matrons you ever did see.

I wish I could tell you all the symptoms I’ve got,
but I’m due at my doctor’s for an estrogen shot.
Even though we’ve grown older this wish is sincere;
Merry Christmas to you and a Happy New Year.

(BTW, in spite of what the poem says, I’ll never dye my hair and you couldn’t PAY me to take estrogen in any form. Just thought I’d throw that in.)

Full Circle

Sometimes it seems as if, as we age, we come full circle, right back to where we started from.

Last night we attended the college Christmas celebration, a formal, semi-formal dinner and dance held every year for as long as the college has existed – almost 120 years. It was a cold winter night – clear skies and sparkling stars. Perfect for a winter ball and watching the students was like taking a trip back through time.

Some of the young women wore hugely voluminous gowns that would have done Scarlett proud while others looked svelte and sophisticated in sexy sheaths and bare shoulders. Some were elegantly thin, while others resembled brightly colored marshmallows. There was every color from bright reds to shy pastels that looked like the icing on petit fours.

The young men looked like young men have always looked at high school and college dances. Some were dressed like Sean Connery as 007 while others looked liked they were attending their own lynching. In the cloak room, they helped their dates off with their wraps – some with practiced aplomb while others looked like they had never before seen a coat hangar. We older folks watched the interaction of the young couples with everything from wistful nostalgia to little more than indifference but many of us commented that the women must be freezing in their formal gowns.

Then, a young woman in a lovely yellow gown caught my eye. The dress had a tight bodice and tiny straps over her bare shoulders. The skirt was full and seemed to float around her legs. Her date was wearing a black shirt to match his jacket and pants and yellow tie to coordinate with her dress. He was sweetly attentive and they had that look that couples have when they’re first getting to know each other. Or perhaps I misread their body language completely but that’s not what I want to tell you about.

He walked her over to a couch and, though I could not hear them, it looked as though he was inviting her to sit down while he went for refreshments. She smiled, perched on the arm of the couch and off he went, into the fray, looking for such things as sliced smoked salmon and, amazingly, corn chips.

And, then I saw it. Under her beautiful yellow gown, she was wearing frayed blue jeans and high top basketball shoes. I almost fell off the couch where my own husband had left me to go hunting for food and drink.

In my day, I would have cheerfully frozen to death rather than wear the equivalent of long johns under a formal gown.

But, no uncomfortable panty hose for this young girl in the yellow dress. No spike heels to teeter-totter on the ice outside. Nope. She was happy and comfortable and looked like a million bucks.

You go girl, I thought, and smiled.

Barbie Doll Doesn’t Live Here

I’m a flat chested woman in a family of Big Breasts. I can remember, in my early teens, seeing my mother put my two younger sisters in the car for the seemingly weekly drive to the local JC Penney store to buy Training Bras.

Even then, at that naive age, I knew my breasts did not need to be trained although, foolishly, I wished for my own breasts to grow large so I could become a Real Woman.

Bigger yes, but “trained”?  To do what?

Anyway, after each trip to buy new, larger bras, my sister’s barely worn old bras would be laundered and put into the top drawer of the bureau in my bedroom, waiting for me to grow into them.  I sometimes imagine that somewhere, there is a stack of brand new bras of progressively larger sizes, all pristine white and neatly folded, still waiting for me to grow into them.

That was a lot of years ago but some things change only for the worse. If you cruise the internet now, you find some amazing ideas of ways to make our bodies more acceptable or more beautiful – at least to some people.

We have come to accept circumcision, the usually unnecessary and barbaric practice of slicing off the most sensitive part of a baby boy’s penis. Male circumcision came into vogue as a method of discouraging young boys from masturbation.

In some parts of the world, the horrifying and permanent mutilation of the genitals of young girls is as common as foot binding once was in China. Although foot binding was, incredibly, seen as erotic, female genital mutilation is done to keep women under the sexual control of their husbands.

In Hollywood and elsewhere, women can have their virginity surgically restored, their labia snipped and trimmed, and a Google search for the term “designer vagina” turns up more than 300,000 hits.

There are literally millions of web sites devoted to the stretching, shrinking, pumping and/or enlarging of just about any part of your body you can think of. There’s even a surgical procedure to create fake “six-pack abs”.

What strikes me as the funniest of all these is anal bleach. One site I read touted the product as a way of “looking younger”. I just can’t quite imagine showing up at a party, dropping my pants and bending over for my friends to pronounce that, “Yep Bran, you look ten years younger!”

Meanwhile, tattoos and body piercings are more popular than ever, and I’ve actually met people who don’t have the money to make their rent but manage to come up with the price of a new tattoo.

My husband has a saying … “Play the game in the uniform you were issued”. Which is not to say that he doesn’t believe in staying fit. He does. We eat vegetarian and try to get regular exercise. He just doesn’t see the point in wishing for or surgically changing one’s body.

Neither do I.

Don’t misunderstand … If others want to buy bigger that or smaller this, that’s okay. Its their business and their money. And, if any of these procedures adds to one’s self esteem and sense of self-worth, well, then, I guess it might be worth it.

Not for me though. I’ll stick with my grey streaked hair and what is so adorably referred to as crow’s toes around my eyes. I’ll continue to fight what often feels like a losing battle against the Grim Middle Aged Weight Gain. But, no boob jobs, nose jobs, tummy tucks or face lifts for me.

I stopped wearing a bra some time ago. What a delightful feeling of liberation to finally be rid of that uncomfortable bound up feeling. Yeah, I’m still pretty flat chested but the difference is that now I’m getting older, I realize two things … I really do like my own body and gravity will never be my enemy.

Remembering an Anniversary

(Originally written November 19th, 2008)

This anniversary doesn’t get remembered much anymore and seems especially appropriate right now. The power, poetry and brevity of this speech never fail to move me.

November 19th, 1863

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Best Friends

(Originally posted November 17th, 2008)

If we’re really very lucky, there are people who share our lives with us in special ways.

In this post, I want to wish Polly a very Happy Birthday. We’ve been together, through thick and thin and soupy for more than 35 years. No matter what, you will always have a corner of my heart all to yourself.

Carol, my dear dear friend, Thank You for this silly fun caption. You didn’t even know when you gave it to me but I couldn’t resist using it.

Diane, one of those rare people who love me enough to always tell me the truth – even when I don’t want to hear it.

Polly, Carol, Diane and Kay and Ann — I could not have made it without you. Thank all of you and my sisters, Marianne and Marty for always listening with an open heart and a generous spirit and for caring about what I went through to get where I am now. And, Grey Fox, my lover and husband, for holding my hand and loving me in ways I never thought possible.

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