Momcat.

When I was a kid, my mom’s favorite coffee mug featured a cat with a kitten in its pouch.

In retrospect, it was kind of weird.

But it was her mug, she used it all the time, and I remember how upset we all were the day it broke. My mom might have briefly considered shedding a single tear – which is as close to crying as my mom gets.

I thought it was a one-off, irreplaceable. But fast-forward 30 or so years, and thanks to the magic of the internet, I learned that the cat with the pouch was a Thing.

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And thanks to the magic of eBay, I learned I could replace my mom’s favorite mug. Shazam!

I ordered it right before Easter, and on that Saturday a mug-sized package arrived at my doorstep.

I opened the box, sat down on my steps, and cried. The package did not contain my Momcat mug. It was instead from hospice, and it contained medications we need to have on hand to keep my mom comfortable.

Some time between her MRI on December 20 and her MRI on April 3, mom’s glioblastoma returned with a vengeance, in multiple locations throughout her brain. She was offered chemotherapy as a palliative care measure, but the risks outweighed the benefits. We decided to begin hospice services.

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the last month and a half. And what I’ll be up to for the next few months. I joke that my life has been canceled until further notice, but the truth is that my life has constricted, focused around one goal – to give my mother as many good days as possible as her life comes to a close.

It is hard.

It is a privilege.

We’ve stocked up on Chocolate Trinity Ice Cream from Publix (her favorite), a friend let me borrow all five seasons of Designing Women, and Jason is watching the NBA playoffs with her. Her neighbors from Jacksonville brought over her bird feeder, which she monitors closely. She does not report any pain.

The mug did arrive eventually, and she adores it.

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The Sweet Smell of…..Rejection

Several weeks ago, a friend forwarded me a story contest announcement from Midtown Reader, our completely delightful local bookstore. The limit was 600 words, a short short story.

Many would enter; six would be chosen.

I entered. I was not chosen.

I’m not surprised, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting a little. I used to write for a living, and I wasn’t terrible at it.

Anyway. Here’s the story I wrote.

“My glass is empty,” Violet whispered, peering at the underside of her champagne flute, “again.”

I grinned at her as the sweat finally coalesced on my spine and began to travel in rivulets towards my waist. It was 10:00 in the morning but already sweltering, in the way that only New Orleans swelters. Violet and I were seated outdoors, taking full advantage of bottomless mimosas and double breakfast meats, planning the second day of our first adult vacation.

The waiter appeared with refills. I squinted up at him. “If you were us, would you go on a paddlewheel boat ride or to the Zoo?”

“Oh, definitely the Zoo. It’s just up the streetcar line from here.”

“Zoo it is!” Violet raised her glass. “Can we get drinks to go?”

“Of course you can, chere.”

“Cheers to you, sir!”

* * *

Thirty minutes later, we wandered through the Zoo entrance after downing our alarmingly large traveling drinks. I was sweating in earnest now.

“What was that?” Violet tilted her head. “Did you hear that?”

I listened, but didn’t hear anything un…. There.

“What the heck was that?” I asked, looking around. It was a guttural, primal sound, and it pierced the din of the zoo crowd like a spear. By the looks on the faces around me, other people heard it too. There it is again. It sounded almost, but not quite, like…

MOMMY IS THAT A LION?” A towheaded child whispered. “DID THE LION GET OUT OF ITS CAGE?”

Violet turned to me, her eyes and mouth perfect Os of surprise and delight, as the low bellowing roar once again snaked its way to our ears. “Do you think the lion got out? Is it menacing people right now? We have to find out! Let’s go!”

Violet and the kid managed to set off a whispering campaign that rippled through the sultry air. By the time the rumors had traveled 50 feet, there was definitely a lion loose in the zoo, it was hungry, and every sweaty tourist was on their way to find it.

Violet spotted something.

“Is that a bar? IN A ZOO?” She began giggling. “A bar and a lion? This is the best day of my life.”

Re-supplied with beer, we trailed the crowd in the direction of the noises, which seemed to be getting stronger and closer together, like contractions. I paused at a misting station, holding my beer out of the spray.

“What are you doing?” Violet asked.

“I figure if I cover myself in water, then I’m just wet, not sweaty. Right?”

“Yes? But come on! I think the lion is mad!”

“Should we maybe consider moving away from the noise that sounds like a threatened lion?”

“Uh…. Nope. Cheers!” We clinked plastic cups and strolled on.

We rounded a bend and saw the enclosure from which the strange sounds were emanating.

It was not the lion enclosure.

A mother, obviously upset, was hustling her small daughter away from the fence. She reached back to grab her husband, who was transfixed by whatever was going on in the pen. Several other parents were trying in vain to cover their children’s eyes.

I reached the fence and froze. It took me a moment to process what I was seeing, during which time the 600-pound Galapagos tortoise, with a final bellow, completed his sexual conquest of the female beneath him.

The ensuing silence was broken when Violet snorted, beer sloshing to the rim of her cup as she raised it high.

“CHEERS TO YOU, SIR!”

 

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Won’t you be my neighbor?

A house up the street from me just went on the market a couple of weeks ago, and I am desperate for someone to buy it and make it amazing on the cheap.

This is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house with 1,542 square feet of living space, plus a big garage. It’s on a big corner lot.

Got it? Got it. Now, I have notes.

(All photos from Realtor.com)

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I love brick houses. But this brick? Is not my favorite. I’d paint it cream or light gray, or maybe lime wash it to make the color more even.

Step a little closer.

e40361c627649cb18d4a8c95861e5c0el-m3xd-w1020_h770_q80The window on the left has one shutter, and the window by the door has zero. The remaining shutters look good, so I’d probably just get three new brown shutters.

If the new shutter runs into that exterior light next to the front door, I’d move it to hang from the porch ceiling. If it doesn’t, I’d replace that light with something more awesome, and put a second one on the other side of the door.

I am not offended by the scrolly iron column (“scrolly” is a highly technical term), but if you didn’t like it you could encase it in wood stained to match the shutters. I’d also paint  the front door and re-think the landscaping in front of the porch.

Exterior

Let’s step inside.

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This room is fine, but suffers from too much large furniture and too little imagination. Smaller-scale furniture, a rug, bigger art, and new curtains would make a world of difference. On the plus side, the floor looks fine and some enterprising soul already installed crown molding.

Plus, look at these neat columns that break up the space between the living room and dining area:

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I wish someone had carried the wood flooring through to the back of the house, but if that’s not in your budget, you can live with relatively inoffensive tile and start saving your dollars to replace it later.

On to the dining area!

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Why is there a ceiling fan in this space? I’d replace it with a pendant or chandelier. I’d also replace the sliding doors with French doors (although that’s pricey). I feel that the table is too big for the space and blocks the flow of traffic to the back door. This is only a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house, and I can’t imagine the buyer needing seating for six on a regular basis.

A round table with optional leaf would be more appropriate:

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Pivot to the kitchen:

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It’s not a terrible starting point. Honest.

Next to the fridge, under the window, I’d try to find a way to add more storage in the form of a built-in buffet:

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Now, to the kitchen proper.

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Right off the bat, I notice that the upper and lower cabinet doors don’t match, the range is in a weird place (not emotionally, just physically), and the light fixture kind of blows. It’s hard to tell the condition of the countertops, but let’s assume they’re fine.

I’d replace that light fixture and add more lower cabinets on the right-hand wall, moving the range over so its door doesn’t fight with the dishwasher’s. I’d pull the upper cabinets off the range wall and hang chunky shelves on either side of the range, kind of like this:

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Finally, I’d paint the lower cabinets a dark color and the upper cabinets white. If the hardware on the upper cabinets is bad, I’d replace it.

If your kitchen budget is bigger, you can replace the counter tops and backsplash while you’re at it.

Then there’s this awkward space (the baker’s rack is next to the stove, for reference):

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This might be a good place to install a pegboard wall for shallow storage.

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The bedrooms all appear to be good-sized, and they all have hardwood floors. The two bathrooms are dated but appear clean and functional.

Off the master bedroom, there’s this office space, which could be a great retreat or work space.

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Paint, carpet, and better lighting would transform this room.

I have questions about the back patio.

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Such as, who put an air conditioning compressor right there? SURELY that can be moved. Otherwise, the patio is fine. Some seating, maybe a fan, and you’re golden.

And that’s it. Barring any major structural defects, it’s a perfect home for a couple or small family to make their own. Plus, the neighbors are tremendous, the schools are good, and the location is convenient.

(Note: I am not affiliated with, nor have I been compensated by, any realtor. This is what I do for fun. Sad, but true.)

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May Day

Then:

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Now:

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There is more – much more – to say, but I wanted to mark the occasion on a happy note.

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Reading Materials: April 2017

18. The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson. (Library) This book is, as they say, right up my Edwardian England alley. I find the society fascinating – why so-and-so can be invited to tea or not, why one man is a suitable prospect but another is Totally Unacceptable, and the plethora of unappetizing food names. It was beautifully written, well-paced, and swung effortlessly between the silliness of manners and the seriousness of war.

19. The Couple Next Door, Shari Lapena. (Library, Book Club Selection) It would be helpful for me if all books involving babies in peril came with a big warning label on the front. This was a book club selection, so I hadn’t had the chance to read about the book before I read the book. In the first chapter, a couple discovers their six-month-old baby missing, and the rest of the book deals with the how and why. I had a hard time focusing on whodunnit because I was anxious about the status of the baby. I doubt everyone has the same problem. Otherwise, this was a well-written and twisty mystery, and I enjoyed it.

20. Definitely Dead, Charlaine Harris. (hand-me-down) After Baby In Peril, I needed a palate cleanser. As always, this was a perfect fluffy sherbet of a book.

21. The Atomic Weight of Love, Elizabeth J. Church (Library, Book Club selection) I disliked this book almost to the point of loathing it. A few years ago, I finally read The Making of the Atomic Bomb, a weighty tome by Richard Rhodes – so a novel about one of the wives of a Los Alamos scientist seemed like it would be my thing. But this book had almost nothing to do with Los Alamos, and everything to do with the giant chip the main character carries on her shoulder. In short, at the age of 19, she marries a professor more than 20 years her senior, and ends up not going to graduate school – a fact she whines about for the remainder of the novel. She allows this festering resentment to consume her. AND ANOTHER THING. In the novel, at the age of 46, she is suddenly turned from a relatively serious person into a lust-crazed, boy-crazy twit – and the boy in question is 20 years her junior. I don’t buy it. Even in the 1960s.

22. The Rook, Daniel O’Malley. (Library) This book was tremendously entertaining, and it grabbed me from the first page. The main character wakes up on page one surrounded by corpses wearing latex gloves, with no memory of who she is or what happened. She finds a letter in her pocket from herself, and then we’re off on a grand supernatural adventure. I will definitely be checking out the second book in the series.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 18
Non-Fiction: 4

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We painted the dining room, and I have some thoughts on open concept houses.

The dining room was the last big room on the first floor that needed to be painted, and I was 100% sure I wanted to change the color from a tan-ish gold to something else.

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Until I wasn’t.

Until I was again.

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I waffled on the dining room color for an absurdly long amount of time. On the one hand, the room has a ton of windows and wide trim, so there isn’t a whole lot of wall – which indicated we should go with a bold color. On the other hand, there’s a lot of dark wood and art and a boldly-colored rug  – indicating maybe a subdued neutral was in order. On the third tentacle, while our house is by no means open concept (more on that in a moment!) the dining room is visible from the (green) living room and the (cream) kitchen, so I wanted the colors to flow.

I ended up choosing another color from SW’s historical collection, Calico. We freaking love it.

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It’s serene, it reflects the light beautifully, and it pulls together the whole room.

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After we put it on the walls, we started noticing the color everywhere. It’s the same gray-blue as Jason’s eyes, for example, and his car, and a sweet French Bulldog salt shaker I bought at Target several years ago. I even used some of the leftover paint on some plastic Easter eggs.

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And when I pulled out my mom’s china for Easter brunch, BEHOLD, it matched.

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I found myself grateful, once again, for the lack of open-concept-ness in our house. The color we picked is by no means bold, but it would be overwhelming in a large living/dining/kitchen area.

I would not be happy living in an open concept house – I like privacy, and doors, and retreats. That said, I have a great appreciation for the judicious deployment of an open-concept format in a renovation. I watch “Fixer Upper” with just as much excitement as the next thirtysomething female. In our former house, the kitchen had been opened to the family room, and that was great. Even in our current house, it appears that three small rooms – an entry room, a butler’s pantry, and a kitchen – were combined to make the current kitchen.

Like every other trend (although “trend” seems a bit strong of a word for a permanent change to the structure of your home!), the open concept movement is starting to see its share of vocal detractors. House Beautiful argued a few months ago, “Why We Need to Just Stop With Open Floor Plans.”  I think all their points are fair. I would add, perhaps, something I’ve noticed with televisions. Have TVs gotten bigger in response to changing design? Or has design changed in response to bigger televisions? It seems like every open concept house I’ve seen in person (as opposed to the houses staged for HGTV shows) is designed around the TV – usually in the form of a TV-shaped space above the fireplace or within a set of built-ins. The TV is visible – and audible – throughout the entire living space. This is not appealing to me, but I also recognize that I am in the minority.

 

 

 

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Sisyphus

The plan was simple. I was to take my mother to Jacksonville on Saturday for the wedding of her godson, the son of her oldest friend, and then spend the night on the same property where the wedding was being held. I felt clever enough to transport her from Point A to Point B and back in a 24-hour period. I even brought a couple of books, on the theory that I would execute my duties so competently I would have time left over to read while gazing at the ocean.

Instead, like the clever Sisyphus, I spent the weekend pushing my mother up the hill of my own hubris.

We left Tallahassee at noon. The wedding was scheduled for 5:00 at Amelia Island, a three-hour drive away. We stopped for lunch at 1:00. Mom preferred to eat at the restaurant, and I thought that with my help we could be in and out in a reasonable amount of time.

Nope.

Most people can cope with the level of stimulus generated by a busy fast-food restaurant on a Saturday afternoon. Not my mother. She was completely overwhelmed by the noises, the lights, the colors.

I pushed.

I ordered for her, helped her sit down, brought her food, filled her drink, and begged her to eat. She sat, staring in the direction of the TV without really seeing it. I had to coach her through every bite. It took over an hour.

I pushed.

Back in the car, I realized that we were now in danger of being late. We pulled up to the hotel at 4:00. Of course, check-in was in the main hotel, and our room was in a distant building.

And here’s where I made my biggest mistake. I had assumed that a normal hotel setup would be fine for mom. She walks slowly and with difficulty, but she does not use a walker or wheelchair. However, there are some very real differences between a truly accessible space and a “normal” space. At 4:20, when I pulled up to the building where our room was located, I almost cried. All I could see were stairs. There were stairs to get to the elevator, which was also located at the back of the building. There were more stairs from the elevator to our room.

I pushed.

I got her out of the car and into the room. I got both of us changed and back downstairs to catch the shuttle to the ceremony site. We arrived at 5:05, just ahead of a golf cart full of bridesmaids. The shuttle dropped us 50 yards from the seating area. The distance stretched before me like a dolly zoom shot from a Hitchcock film.

I pushed.

The ceremony was lovely, and offered me exactly 20 minutes to breathe before tackling the next challenge – another 50-yard walk over unpaved ground to the reception site. We put mom on a golf cart, a process that took three adults and 10 minutes of coaching. Once at the reception, we deposited her in a chair. She did not get up for the rest of the evening. After dinner, we wrangled her back onto the shuttle and I somehow got her up to our room, undressed, and in bed.

Sunday morning, I woke up pushing.

I got her out of bed. I packed all our things, dressed her, and loaded the car. I asked if she was ready to go.

“I’m ready to go back to bed,” she pouted.

I made her use the restroom before we left. The toilet was low, and configured such that I could not stand in front of her to help her up. The awkward angle, combined with her inability to assist, caused me to wrench my back trying to keep her from falling to the floor. I spent the drive home with increasing stiffness and soreness in my mid-back.

Yet I pushed.

I arrived home just after noon and I was a wreck. I had spent every waking moment of the last 24 hours pushing my mother, pushing her to move, pushing her to focus, pushing her to cooperate. Even when we’re at home, I have to push her to drink water, push her to use the bathroom, push her to eat, push her to bathe.

I’m glad we went. It was the right thing to do. The wedding was lovely. But the amount of work required to execute a relatively simple plan was staggering. I consider myself to be pretty smart, but I was humbled by the number of factors I failed to adequately consider. And while I would love to say, “Next time will be better!” I honestly don’t think there will be a next time.

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