Thursday, September 26, 2013

She didn't live forever

Over the years she's been called the cat that will never die and that &#%$ cat that will live forever just to irritate my husband. She's been unfortunate from the start - saddled with a name that was picked before I knew I'd be getting a female cat.


She's been with me for more than 18 years. I don't know what that equals in cat years, but in human years, that's most of my adult life. Here's how young I was when I first brought her and her sister Maddie home after responding to a free kitten ad in the newspaper:

Our relationship can best be described as complicated. Spike was not an easy cat to love. She wasn't as pretty or affectionate as Maddie. But I couldn't love her less, just differently. While Maddie came across as beautiful but dumb, Spike looked ornery and conniving. Maddie could pull off a "who me?" look even when caught in the act. Spike looked guilty no matter what. But Spike liked me and trusted me, and she ignored everyone else. As long as she had me, she needed no one else. And so I loved her with a fierce protectiveness.

To be fair, I was probably not an easy human for her to love. I inflicted all sorts of crazy ideas on them. Since they were my first babies, I featured them proudly on Christmas cards each year. Here's from 1995 (message: Merry Christmas from our set to yours) when I borrowed some lights from the TV station and started a small fire in my apartment:

The next year I tried an easier idea: I brought them to work with me for a photo on the news set. Did I mention Spike also hated car rides? Another unpopular idea. 

I gave up on fancy after that. It was me and and the cats under the Christmas tree in 1997.

Fast forward to 2001, Jeff and I were now married and had just bought the land where we now live. By then we'd added a hyper dog to the mix, and brought them all for the photo opp. Look hard and you can find Spike showing her lack of cuddliness in my arms. (Worth noting: it was a year prior to this picture that I learned I was allergic to cats. And still I kept them. Because they were my first babies.)

Spike's biggest issue, however, was what the vet once termed "inappropriate urination". Translation: she peed where she pleased when she was displeased about anything.

Such as Jeff. He was competition for my attention and she had no time for that. Spike had to give Jeff a whole bunch of new hockey gear one year for Christmas. Had Jeff had his way, we'd have gotten rid of her back in 1999. During a pre-marriage counseling retreat, Spike was identified as the single biggest source of tension in our relationship.

Jeff is a saint for putting up with her as long as he did. For any of his colleagues, if you saw him doing a happy dance at work today, you now know why. He outlasted the cat.

(Maddie, for those who may not know, passed away fourl years ago.) And still Spike lived on. And on.

She had no interest in cat nip and other toys cats were supposed to play with. When a mouse got into our basement, she ignored it. Even when it pooped in her food dish. No lie.

If it was possible, Spike grew crankier and even less affectionate in recent years. She seemed to come out of her shell a bit during the couple months when we were in between dogs and she was the only pet. But ever since Gus joined our family, she's grown more and more withdrawn. Most of her days she'd spend hiding and sleeping in Sydney's closet or under her bed.

There have been more and more instances of "inappropriate urination".  I knew the situation wasn't good, and in some ways wished she would die so so I wouldn't have to make the dreaded decision to end her life. Finally, last week, Jeff had had enough. And I don't blame him. The carpet in Sydney's room and on the stairs to the basement stinks beyond words and will have to be replaced.

Last Friday, I made the dreaded call to the vet. They could have gotten us in that day, but I wasn't ready. I purposely picked a day farther off to so that I could have just a few days more with her. I confined her to the basement so she'd do no more damage upstairs. And the days marched on. I started really looking at her and seeing how badly she was limping and how mentally dazed she often looked. How bad has she been for how long and I just didn't want to see it?

Spike stayed true to her character right up until the end. I brought her upstairs so the kids could say goodbye before school, and she managed to sneak away and hide behind our bed. She's always been able to sense when something unpleasant was imminent. Jeff and I had to pull the mattress and box spring off the bed in order to get her out. Why should this trip to the vet be easier than any other trip we've made? At last I set off with her to the vet.

As hard as it was, I needed to do it by myself. I needed to be there with her because I'm the only person she's ever trusted and needed. As always, she purred and yowled at the same time for the entire car ride and while we waited in the exam room. She managed to projectile shed fur and dandruff all over my clothes while we waited for the vet.

And then, in a matter of seconds, she was gone. I'm glad it was quick and painless. But it seems so unreal that a cat can be living, breathing and purring one moment, and then just a few seconds later be forever still.

We will never get another cat. My heart is heavy, but I know it's the right decision for me, my allergies and my relationship with my husband.

I will miss you, Spike.We grew up together, and I am thankful for the many years we shared.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Adventures in vegetables

One of these years I'm going to plant a vegetable garden.

I should mention I've been saying that for years. The problem is we'd have to do a lot of work just to create a garden space that's level; safe from rabbits, deer and a poorly trained golden retriever; and can be reached with a garden hose. And then there's all the work of planting and weeding and watering - a lot of which needs to be done right when I'm needing to run the most miles while training for the half marathon. Plus, I'm kind of lazy.

And so one more year has passed with no garden in our back yard.

Last year, I at least started growing herbs in a large pot, and had relatively good results. This year, I let the kids talk me into expanding my container gardening efforts by planting a couple tomatoes. In a moment of weakness, or perhaps of forgetfulness on my part that I usually kill plants, I broke down and spent $6 to buy two small tomato plants at Home Depot several months ago. 

All summer long we've watched the plants grow on our back step, making sure it had enough water but not too much. At last two small tomatoes appeared. Slowly they grew bigger, but stayed green. And then, one day it finally turned red. With black spots that might have been mold.

We quickly plucked it and cut off the potentially bad part, and then used the rest of it - along with a bunch of other tomatoes we bought on sale at Cub for far less than what we spent on the two plants, to make salsa.

Meanwhile, we've discovered a far more reliable method for acquiring fresh produce. The Saturday morning farmers' market about three miles from our house.

Sydney came with me two weeks ago and had a great time. All those tables covered with brightly colored vegetables displayed right at her eye level for her to choose from and carry in her bag. Sydney simply couldn't resist!

"Let's get these!" She'd excitedly point at vegetables she doesn't even like.

And I'm pretty sure I got a lot of extra veggies simply because who can resist such a cute helper? Several times, as I was paying for something, I'd hear one of the vendors say, "Throw in those loose carrots," or "Here, just take all of these. She'll love them."

I have to admit I might also have gotten a bit carried away. My refrigerator now holds a big bunch of kale. I've only used kale once, and don't recall the recipe, or if we even like it. But just in case, I'm ready!

Last Saturday we returned. This time with AJ. He thought it was pretty awesome, too. Fresh green beans are his new favorite healthy snack. And tomatoes.

Sunday, I attempted to can some of those tomatoes. I had 80 percent success. Five pint jars sealed with diced tomatoes inside. Two hours later, one of the lids popped up. But the other four worked. 

I also roasted some of the tomatoes and made salsa. But then we ate it before I attempted to save any for later. I think I'm going to have to make some more.

I might even have a few more homegrown tomatoes to add to the mix. Tomato #2 from the back yard is finally ripe. And three other small green tomatoes have now appeared. Hopefully they'll have enough time to grow and turn red before frost gets them.

Thank goodness for farmers markets to back me up.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Are you ready for some football?

The end of the fall sports season is almost here. After that, we get a whole month off before hockey chaos begins again. Sydney's soccer season ends this week. AJ's soccer season ends next week. And football already wrapped up.

Wait a minute.

Football's over?

How did that happen? We went through a whole season - his first season, I might add - and I didn't post a single story about it.

Mother of the year I am not. But at least I took pictures.

I discovered early on that it's even harder to identify a child in football gear than it is in hockey gear. See that little #7 in the center of AJ's jersey in the above photo? Now try to follow that number when they bend over at the line of scrimmage and then all run into each other. Try to find AJ in the photo below.

Here's the hint that finally worked for me. Look for his shoes. They're silver with neon green on the heels.

Meanwhile, if he's facing you, you can sometimes pick up the glare of his glasses.

This sure is a swell sport.

And like all first-year seasons, the games move at a brutally slow pace. It takes the coaches a couple minutes to get all the players lined up in their appropriate positions. Then at last they hike the ball. There are five to 15 seconds of motion. And then it starts all over again.

And of course, AJ loves it. He comes off field excitedly declaring things that make no sense to me.

"Mom, I pancaked a guy!"

"That's great honey. I have no idea what that means."

He and his team, along with all the other teams in the league, were recognized during half time at a recent high school game. Too bad it was a Cloquet high school football team. (Esko doesn't offer youth football) Even more annoying: the parents had to pay for tickets to get into the game and take pictures of their little darlings getting their medals.

To the league's credit, they made it exciting for the kids. They called out each one's name as they ran onto the field to get their medal.

Just one question remains. How does an 8-year-old who doesn't really watch much football, know what a "Tebow" is?
AJ with friends Quinn and Noah (even if they did play for another team.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

911. 12 years later

Twelve years.

How could it possibly already have been 12 years?

And somehow today I ended up almost exactly where I was on this horrible day in 2001.

Today, the sun was shining and the sky was clear. I heard several people comment on how similar the weather was 12 years ago. I don't remember what the weather was like back then. On that day, I'd been working in the basement of the Great Lakes Aquarium, where there are no windows and the foundation is so thick (in order to support the weight of all the water) that you get no radio or TV reception. I remember this because as the events of September 11 unfolded, I had to rely on my mother to email me updates because many news websites had frozen due to too many people seeking details.

I was able to enjoy today's weather because it happened to be the day that I and three colleagues had scheduled our weekly workout with a trainer. Julie gave us a couple of options for workouts and we chose to go outside. We grabbed small weights and headed for the bayfront, but then she decided to have us work out... get this... on the steps that run alongside the Great Lakes Aquarium. And as we used the steps for lunges, squats and other painful exercises, I happened to glance across the street where a small replica of the Statue of Liberty stands. And there was an honor guard surrounding it, holding a memorial in honor of those who died.

The coincidence was too much.

We decided to move our workout, so as to not become an inappropriate background for such a somber event. We grabbed our weights and turned around. Now facing Duluth's downtown, I spotted the two towers that stick out above the Century Link building. I've never noticed them before, but this time, on this day, couldn't help but notice how much their shape resemble mini versions of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

So many lives touched, ended or forever changed. How lucky I am to still be here and be healthy. To be able to enjoy the bright sun and clear skies. To remember the loss of that day and the many people who served and sacrificed in the 12 years since then. Soldiers who are dying in Afghanistan now were the age of my son when the war on terror started.

Too many memories. Too important to forget.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

When it's this hot, is it still called a fair?

I'm only a week late posting about our adventures at the State Fair. (That's still better than my vacation pictures. It's been a month since we got back from Michigan and I'm still only half done with that.) It's kind of sad how much I've already forgotten. But here's what I remember of the Great Minnesota Get Together. (The fact that I have photos to jog my memories is purely a coincidence.)

It was hot that day. Really, really hot. Hot as in sweat dripping down your back and be careful which booths you check out in the Grandstand because there were stinky people everywhere.

The other thing I remember? We seemed to spend most of our time at sports-themed activities.

This was the first time ever we've gone without the rest of my family. So we let the kids call the shots. Most of the time. The Twins booth was AJ's first choice.

He played in a mock game. Three innings in blazing, late morning sun. Sydney and I missed most of it, heading to the neighboring Bazaar in search of smoothies and tutus. It's amazing what she remembers from previous visits.

When AJ's game ended, we did the pitching game.

After watching the kids each do their best to throw strikes, Jeff couldn't resist trying it out, too.

Sydney got to pick the next activity. And guess what she wanted to do?

I think we did the Grandstand after that. Nothing worth photographing there. Though Jeff managed to find a very practical souvenir. A towel that holds water and stays cold for a really long time. He wore it around his neck the rest of the day.

As long as we were close, Sydney had to ride the carousel.

And then we moved on to another of AJ's favorites. The sportscaster set in the Fox Sports North booth. On the drive to the fair, AJ had asked, "Can we go to the booth where you get to pretend you're a TV announcer for the Twins?"

"Sure," Jeff answered.

Sydney heard something else, asking the follow up question, "Dad used to play for the Minnesota Twins?"

How she came up with that stumped us all. "Where did that come from?" I asked.

But AJ had already moved on to correcting his sister, "Sydney, Dad was never good enough to play for the Twins!" He paused. "Ummm, no offense, Dad."

It was while at the booth that AJ heard - from one of the Fox Sports North girls, of all people - the news that Justin Morneau had just been traded. Good thing he was wearing a Josh Willingham t-shirt that day.

And then we moved on. To more sports. I forget the name of the building - it was for some sort of sports viewing package via satellite I think.  The St. Paul Saints had a cool set up. Air blew from the cone, making the ball float while AJ attempted to hit it.

This was also the site of AJ's major heartbreak. The Vikings booth had a plinko game. Drop three discs into the touchdown slot and win two tickets to a game. Of course the line to play was about a half hour long. At last it was AJ's turn.

Disc #1: touchdown.

Disc #2 Touchdown!

Disc #3: (by now the crowd was going wild) it bounced down from peg to peg. It looked to be veering off to the side but then suddenly started moving back to the center. Everyone was cheering. It hit the final peg - just above the touchdown slot. And bounced in the other direction. Incomplete pass.

AJ was devastated. 

I tried to cheer him up, pointing out it would only have been two tickets, which would be enough for Jeff and I, but not for him to go. He paused for a moment, but then went back to being disappointed.

Good thing the fair also offers Sweet Martha's Cookies. They're good enough to cheer up anyone.

We returned to the fair briefly on Sunday to meet up with my sister's and brother's families. By then the heat wave had ended. And everyone who'd avoided the fair during the previous week ALL seemed to show up. It was packed!

AJ went back to the Vikings booth but didn't do nearly as well as he'd done the day before. We did the slide and the Twins game again. And then it was time to head home. 

At least we had leftover cookies.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Back to the books. Or at least to recess.

One down. One hundred and I don't know how many days to go. If the kids keep smiling like this, it's going to be a great year!

AJ, who'd been dreading this day all summer, seemed excited to head out this morning. And there was no hiding his enthusiasm this afternoon. He got to play kickball during recess, and he kicked the ball over the wall every time. Could there be a better omen or what? As an added bonus, his teacher is, in his words, "Nice. Extremely nice."

And there's a new boy in AJ's class who just moved here and he plays hockey and his desk is right next to AJ's.

And his only homework tonight is to read for 15 minutes. He can handle that. And I only have to put a check mark in his planner when he's done - I don't have to write down book titles or anything. I can handle that.

Yes, the year is off to a great start.

Sydney had a good first day, too. But I sense I missed a lot of stories by not being here to talk with her the minute she got off the bus. She thinks she has a new kid in her class, too. But can't remember his/her name, or even if it's a boy or a girl. She got to put a pebble in a jar for being good, but she can't remember what she did that was so good.

What does she remember about her first day of first grade? That she didn't get to play. Except at recess, AJ was quick to remind her. She also remembers a conversation she had on the playground with a boy who is NOT her boyfriend. "I saw Max today," she told me. "I told him I lost a tooth. He said, 'Sweet!'."

There is one fellow who's less than excited that school is back in session. He's the guy in the middle of the above photo. I can't help but feel sorry for him. Gus had been in the backyard when the bus rolled down the street. He ran to the fence to see what was going on and it was as if his whole body sagged. He knew the significance of that big ol' school bus, and for him it wasn't good. Back to spending his days in the kennel.

Cheer up, Gus. Only nine more months until summer vacation rolls around again.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Back to school blues

Another summer vacation has come to an end.


I'm not one of those parents who does a happy dance when the school bus rounds the corner. I like the freedom and flexibility of summer. I like having my children home with me (easy for me to say when I have wonderful babysitters helping out while I'm at work.) I like letting the kids stay up late, knowing they will sleep in the next morning. I like not having to sort through endless homework assignments and notes that come home daily in folders and pile up on my kitchen table.

But now it's time to start again.

At least my homework is done for the night. The half dozen or so forms FOR EACH CHILD are now filled out. With the same information as was on them last year. 

The kids' lunch accounts again have money in them. 

And the all-important first day of school clothes have been selected. Let me just give a special thanks to the Minnesota Twins for trading Justin Morneau the weekend before the start of school. Did they not think about how this affects parents like me who bought a brand new Morneau jersey within the last few weeks while back-to-school shopping? Good think AJ still wants to wear it!

Sydney is very excited to go back to school. At least now she is.

Up until last week, she'd been a little worried. She didn't get the same first grade teacher as AJ'd had, and she has a brother who was more than happy to tell her how much harder first grade had been than kindergarten.

But last Thursday we went to the school's open house. Sydney got to meet her teacher, drop off her school supplies and explore her new classroom. She admitted to her teacher that she was nervous. But Mrs. Durand assured her that they were going to have a fun year, and said that Mrs. Boese (Sydney's teacher last year) had already told her what a great student Sydney was.

It was exactly what Sydney needed to hear.

As we headed back to the car, Sydney looked up at me and said, "I guess I'm not so nervous anymore."

What a relief!

Now it's just AJ I need to motivate. Not easy to do for a child whose favorite subject is phy. ed. "All we get to do the first week is boring stuff like walk on a straight line," he complained earlier today.

As for me, I spent this last unofficial day of summer finally doing my spring cleaning. My kitchen looks amazing! Dishes that have been collecting dust in the back of cupboards - they're now in boxes. Other unnecessary clutter - it's gone! I have more counter space than I've seen in years!

I probably should warn the children. If they come home from school tomorrow and dump their backpacks all over the table, there will be bloodshed.

It ought to be a great year!