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Things have been hectic here in DC, and I needed a bit of a break. So, I booked a flight, said goodbye to the boys, and headed to Key West, FL for my first-ever solo vacation. I packed way too much into my long weekend, but I did what I wanted when I wanted. I stalked all of the famous authors homes. I ate frozen key lime pie dipped in chocolate. I collected to-go cups frothy with adult beverages. It was pretty glorious.
One of the reasons I picked Key West– other than the sun, people watching, and pirate history– is Ernest Hemingway. Even more specifically, his cats. He loved cats, and often professed that they were the most emotionally honest creatures living; Hemingway himself was not a particularly emotionally honest human. He thought they brought luck.
Hemingway was given a white polydactyl cat by a ship’s captain passing between Cuba and Key West sometime in 1936. This cat, Snow White, became the first six-toed cat on Hemingway’s property.
Polydactyl cats carry an extra gene that manifests as extra toes on both the front and/or back paws. 53 cats currently live on the Hemingway property, and they all possess the polydactyl gene although only (!) 17 of the cats have the extra toes. So many mitten-feets!
The gates to the property are wide open during the da, and there are trees that stretch over the gates and walls that surround the house, but the cats stay where they are. They’re born there. They live there. They are buried there.
They receive food, treats, medical care and tons of love from visitors. Each cat is named after a ’30s or ’40s celebrity. And really, they’re as attention-seeking as some of their namesakes:
The cats are not up for adoption, although about 10 years ago a couple made off with F. Scott Fitzgerald, poor tom-cat. Now the guides says they take a peek inside the handbags of crazy cat ladies who come through. I get it.
I’m particularly fixated on polydactyls because of Athena, she of six toes, walking like a runway model because her thumbs get in the way. I feel like I met her long-lost relatives. Maybe she’s a descendent of the purloined F. Scott. SHe’s certainly as surly as I suspect he was in feline-form.
Hmmm…. this bookish girl can hope.
*they say “barked at”; i say “defended them from.” we apparently have to agree to disagree. (i’m right).
-momma leaving for class
-dad leaving for work
-momma unlocking the door
-momma and mums leaving for the store
-momma and mums returning from the store
-the neighbor boy’s friends
-the gate swinging in the wind
-dad coming home from work
-birds in the yard
-momma going out for coffee
-momma coming home with coffee
-momma and daddy leaving
-dad walking up the stairs
-dad leaving for a meeting
-bubbles in the tub
-the neighbor dog out for a walk
-dad coming home from his meeting
I SAVED THEM!
About a year ago, I started running. Voluntarily, with nothing chasing me. I bought good sneakers that fit my orthotics (my knees have history) and a Wind Breaker and a little belt in which to keep my phone for music. I used the Couch To 5K app to help me get started. If you were around my neighborhood, you’d see me jogging and walking and jogging and walking and huffing and puffing three days a week. I did it for exercise and to help prepare for a musical I was in last summer.
(To be clear, I tried to take Zozo with me. He wasn’t having it. It could be I was too slow or he was too interested in pooping when there were no cans around. Either way, opportunity lost.)
I hate running. I struggle with it, but I keep at it. I like the fresh air. I like reporting back on homes for sale or new lawn decorations. But mostly, I like that I get a chance to see neighborhood dogs.
Bradley is a handsome Sheltie who trots his dad along. When he sees you, no matter how far off, he sits and waits. His dad waits, too. You may not pass Bradley without petting him, for he will follow you until you pet him. Sometimes coming and going, I get some Bradley love. Bradley’s dad gets a lot of interrupted walks.
Ariel is a German Shepherd with the largest ears I’ve ever seen. She moved into a house as a puppy, and it’s been amazing to watch her grow into her feet. Her eyes are amber. When her dad walks her to the local middle school to collect her human siblings, she’s off-leash, focused and disinterested in sharing the sidewalk. Disciplined. So disciplined.
There’s a dog– sometimes two– that live in a house one street over. I refer to this dog as Evil Dog. I think his name is Storm. I’m not sure. He’s a fence charger and a jail-breaker. From out of no where, he’ll come charging the fence, barking at passers-by, not at all phased by the beeping of the electric fence collar his owners have on him for extra restraint. Maybe I’m being unkind– I suspect he’s lonely, bored, or poorly socialized– but he scares me to death every. damn. run. (One time he hopped the fence and walked to Home Depot. He was found in the plumbing section.)
A Burmese Mountain Dog broke away from his tweenage companion and knocked me over, stood on my legs and licked my hair. The crackle of a changing voice screaming “MOM”, “HELP” and “HE’S JUST A PUPPY” was heartbreaking. When I realized I wasn’t being mauled to death, we all calmed down and had a giggle. And then I cried the rest of the way home. Run cut short. (They have a fence now.)
The long-haired Chihuahua. This little thing, wearing a bedazzled orange harness, came running yap-yap-yap out of an open garage and chased me down the street. When I turned back to him, he put his tush down and hushed. I walked towards him and he backed up, turned around and started towards home. I resumed my run and he resumed his. I picked up my pace and flipped a corner. I have no idea where he went, but I hope it was home, along the sidewalk.
There’s a beagle who guards a neighbor’s chicken coop and generally hangs out in the middle of the street. He’s a weirdo. People just drive around him, or get out of their cars to shoo him home.
There’s an older Korean gentleman who walks his cat. I want to make friends with him.
get out moJanuary 1, 2017
I was asleep before midnight, which is okay because that meant my last pit stop happened before the fireworks started. No #ZOverreacting! A-plus for me!!
Here is what I will work on this year:
- Keeping my cool and trying to bark less. This may take some effort. And treats. Lots and lots of treats.
- Working on my fitness: more reps with tennis balls, eating more vegetables and less pizza.
- Learn something new. I am getting old(er), but I can still get better. Maybe a new trick or skill or something.
- work on some new jokes. The old ones are losing their shine.
- Get out more.
What are you going to do in 2017?
November 28, 2016
(I’m not going to lie. These are quickly becoming my favorite annual posts.)
Year 1, we asked you to click.
Year 2, we asked you to share.
Year 3? Well friends, it’s time to give back. We’re asking you to do something to help someone in a situation you found yourself in this year.
Let me explain.
If you follow our blog, you know we had a rough year. We fought and we celebrated and we reacted and we lost. We still mourn.
When MJ first received her diagnosis, we struggled with doing what was right for her while balancing our home budget. It’s gross to have to make decisions for your furbabies based on finances, but that was our truth. We were willing to swipe-now/worry-later and put everything else on hold (trips, home renovations, fancy dinners) to chip away at the debt, however long it would take. She was worth it. We’d do it again.
Our friends encouraged us to establish a Go Fund Me page, and they generously contributed to her veterinary expenses. Every little bit helped: there were times when those unexpected gifts allowed us to say “yes” to the next test, the next treatment, the next step.
This year, we are working with Southpaws to fund one radiation treatment for a family whose dog is battling the same type of brain cancer as MJ did. The family won’t know us, and we won’t know them. What we will know is that we took away the burden of one day.
And so, friends: think back on this year. In your time of need, what would have helped you most? Can you make that help happen for someone else?
Leave us a comment and let us know how you give back!
October 26-30, 2016
We went to Cuba. It’s a magnificent and startling and complicated place.
Doodle went to camp for his own adventure. We missed him, but we were lucky to have a house-dog. Our casa, the large house in which we rented a room, has a wiggly boxer named Pike who is curious, sweet and extremely well-behaved.
He’d greet us in the morning and when we returned from the day’s excursions. We brought in smells from America as well as places in the city he’d never visited. We hadn’t expected to have a trip mascot, but he was a wonderful surprise.
Something else we didn’t expect– that we didn’t know to ask about in advance to emotionally prepare for– were amount of stray animals. Because why would we? How would we know that we’d see dogs and cats, puppies and kittens roaming around appearing generally well-fed but still showing the wear-and-tear of street living?
Some of them joined our tours for a stroll around a square and or exploring Hemingway’s Finca Vigia, vocally letting our guide know how much they liked her explanations.
In some places, dogs wear string collars with index-sized cards attached, like the pup perched on James’ lap. The cards are handwritten and include the animal’s name. They mean that someone feeds the dogs regularly. These animals are still strays, but someone nearby looks out for them.
And yet, with so many animals in need of homes or stability, puppies are sold on the street, costing more than the annual salary of local doctors.
In Cuba, there is veterinary care. There is a spay and neuter program through animal welfare groups to try to control the stray population. There is no such thing as dog food: domesticated animals like Pike eat whatever their humans eat. Pike’s breakfast was an enormous portion of freshly cooked rice and boiled beans, and sometimes chicken. Cubans who own pets or who take care of them share their monthly food rations with them.
Together, James and I took close to 400 pictures. So many are of the animals that hang around public spaces solo or in packs, calmly approaching humans for food or affection or sniffs. Sleeping. Prowling. Co-existing with the bustle of the city.
And no, we didn’t come home with a new furbaby. We’d never have gotten out and they’d never have gotten in. But like so much of our trip, they’re going to be with us as we process our experiences.