One Question – My Experiment

Recently, after a couple of Zoom conversations with my friend, Kathleen Rodgers, I thought it might be fun to record conversations with author friends about their thoughts on writing and their recent work or novels. (SEE OUR “CHAT” BELOW!)

After weeks of thinking about it and trying to find a good time, I finally jumped in and interviewed Kathy about her latest novel, The Flying Cutterbucks.

The conversation was intended to be just that–a conversation, and not an overly formatted interview. This made it both exciting and scary.  Though I did have a couple of questions in mind to ask, Kathy didn’t have a heads up about what I would be asking.  I think you’ll see in the video, it really was spontaneous–especially by the fact I didn’t even have a title for the “episode” yet. But we had fun, and hopefully, viewers will learn a little bit about Kathy, her novel and her writing process.

Though we had intended to limit this episode to 15 minutes, thinking many people may not have the time to watch anything longer, as often happens when we talk, one topic begat another, and we talked on and on. Next time, perhaps I’ll set a timer, a proverbial hook to pull the performers off the stage. 🙂

This little challenge of “one topic begetting another” also led me to ask more than “One Question,” which is why I edited my title page to add, “or two, or three, or four…”

Obviously, I have some work to do as an interviewer.

So, I hope you’ll forgive my lack of polish and precision, and instead, will enjoy being a “fly on the wall” of my conversation with my very talented author friend!

Feel free to leave your comments about the video, including any critique. I’m always open to new ideas!

Thank you for watching!

For more information on Kathleen M. Rodgers and her books, please visit her website at:

www.kathleenmrodgers.com

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Stay tuned! Next up in October, my “chat” with author friend, Linda Apple about her new book, Bowwow! Book of Winston’s Words of Wisdom.

 

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Escaping the Doldrums

I have to admit, weekends aren’t what they used to be. In the past, they were something to look forward to–outings with family or friends, movies, shopping . . . without a mask. But mostly, we looked forward to family dinners–especially those with the grandkids.

But this past Sunday evening, as I prepared dinner for Steve and me, our house felt hollow and I found myself looking forward to Monday, when I ‘d return to work (though I’m mostly still working from home,) when at last, my mind would be occupied by things other than what I miss.

That afternoon, Steve and I took a short trip out of the city, an escape from the doldrums. We visited a little state park called Cedar Hill.

The morning was beautiful–sunny and touched with fall’s brisk approach. The cool breeze, the warmth of the sun, Steve and Obi–all perfect companions as I meandered through grasslands and wooded areas.

The second best part of such long walks (the best part is being out in nature) is the talks Steve and I have along the way. On Sunday’s walk, we talked about missing the grandkids, how different last year was from this year, possible plans for the future, how we can move toward those plans, and what we can do to make the loss we feel now a more positive transition.

After about an hour on the trail, we found a bench.

“Do you want to sit here and write?” I asked. It’s become a tradition for us to stop and write somewhere along the paths we walk.

“Sure,” Steve replied.

Usually, we write a haiku, or two or three. Here are a couple of mine:

crows dot a blue sky
so far from the madding crowd
but footsteps approach

on this nature trail
I’m social distancing from
social media

But on Sunday’s walk, we seemed to need more than haiku. We needed some silliness. So, we wrote some silly sentences. This is another “game” we sometimes like to play–simply writing anything that comes to mind–the sillier, the better.

Here’s what I wrote: (Forgive the silliness.) 🙂

The gravel beneath my feet looks a lot like oatmeal I ate this morning, light tan in color–“oatmealish”–its pebbles like lumps of oats all clumped together. At two, I might have put a handful in my mouth, but 60 years later, I think not.

Obi’s blonde fur glistens in the sunlight, rather like I imagine Steve must have thought his first love’s hair glistened while, on an afternoon picnic, he pondered his first kiss.

While we walked, I told Steve how grateful I am that I have someone who understands my sadness about the grandkids moving away, someone with whom I can share my feelings, knowing he not only understands, but feels them, too.

I didn’t say it then, but feel it now as I write this blog post: I’m also grateful we both find pleasure in words. On Sunday, words and nature helped us escape the doldrums.

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The Ineffability of a Hug

BEHIND THE SCENES:

SETTING: This morning, 6:30. Jan is sitting at her computer. Steve walks in with a cup of coffee.

STEVE: Are you going to walk this morning?

JAN: No, I’m going to work on a blog.

STEVE (Happy to know she’s writing): What are you going to write about?

JAN: “The Ineffability of a Hug.”

STEVE: Ohhh…what are you going to say?

JAN (after a slight pause): I don’t want to talk about it, because I’ll cry. That’s why I just want to get it all written in words.

STEVE (walks out of the room, sipping his coffee): Okay.

 

I wrote that little scene to “show” the emotions behind my thoughts on hugs. Because to put it into words will be difficult–ineffable.

This past weekend, Tommy and Allie stayed with Steve and me while Adam and Emily went to Cleveland to look for a house. As you might imagine, the weekend was filled with joy, sadness, a few meltdowns (admittedly by each and every one of us at one point or another) and lots of memories.

But, I managed to hold back the tears through most of it, torn between whether it’s a good thing to let Tommy and Allie know how much I’ll miss them, or whether it would scare them to see Grandma cry.

The only time my eyes burned so hot, my lump in my throat got so big and my eyes went from watering to brimming and overflowing were those times that Allie crawled into my lap, often saying, “I love you, Grandma.”

Just typing the words brings tears back to my eyes.

As I felt her head pressed against my chest, as I buried my nose in the scent of her hair, as I felt the weight of her little body pressed against mine, a flood of thoughts and memories filled me up and carried me away to the past and future.

When my children were small, and especially if I was experiencing some sort of challenge, like a day full of tantrums, or a night full of wakings, I remember holding them and rocking them, their heads pressed against my chest. I wondered if they could hear my heartbeat, and if it might comfort them.

But most of all, I remember telling myself it would all be over too quickly, and that even though I was tired and even though their crying might have interrupted sleep and I had to be up for work early in the morning, someday I would miss those hugs.

I imagined myself into the future, at a time when I truly did miss their childhood and their hugs. From that future, I imagined transporting myself back in time so that I could be with them as children again, feeling their little bodies, their unconditional love, smelling the scent of them, and listening to the sound of their breaths become rhythmic as they fell asleep.

So, as I hug any of my four grandchildren now, I’m back to the far, far future. Farther than I’d ever imagined as I used to hug my little kids.

Now, the brevity of childhood is no longer in my imagination. I know it all too well, which makes the hugs even more precious and dear.

Last night, I had a dream. It started out with a large group of people sitting on either side of long tables. We were to choose to sit across from a person whose story we wanted to know.

I suspect the dream had to do with the loss I’ve felt about the isolation of this pandemic–that it’s been so long since I’ve been able to sit across the table from someone and just talk.

As I sat, I began to talk to someone about sailing to Tortola. I was excited about the conversation, because I’ve been to Tortola twice, and I knew we’d have adventures to share.

But then, Allie came up to me and asked to sit in my lap. She crawled up and I wrapped my arms around her. As I felt her body drift to sleep, the conversations around me softened and the people began to blur, until all that was left to the dream was the hug.

Ineffable.

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The “Both/And” of Saying Goodbye

“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”   ~ Kahlil Gibran

A few weeks ago, on the last day of a memory-filled vacation to Florida, we learned that my son, Adam, got a double promotion.

Cheers!

Of course, that meant that he, his wife, Emily, and two of our grandchildren, Tommy (6) and Allie (4) would be moving to Cleveland, Ohio. (Daughter, Andrea, her husband James and my two other grandchildren, Jack (2) and Harry (3 mos.) already live far, far away in Arlington, VA.)

Tears!

Since then, as Adam and Emily excitedly show us houses in Cleveland (both for themselves and for us–should we make the decision to move to Cleveland–hint, hint!) I’ve struggled to hold back tears at the thought that within weeks, they will be gone from our day-to-day lives. A few times, I’ve left the room, because I don’t want either Adam or Emily, and especially the kids, to see me cry.

After all, I’m HAPPY for them, right?

But, at least in the solitude brought by this cursed pandemic, I don’t have to hide my tears.

So, I’ve been having an internal battle. As soon as I feel my throat tighten and my eyes burn with tears, the “Inner Mom” in me begins to chastise the “Inner Grandma” in me for feeling sorry for myself.

Inner Grandma:  What am I going to do without any grandkids living nearby?

Inner Mom:  Stop it! You should feel proud of Adam. You raised both of your kids to do their best, to pursue success and that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Inner Grandma: But I’m going to miss our weekly dinners, seeing Tommy’s and Allie’s smiling faces at the door, hearing, “Hi, Grandma,” or “I love you, Grandma.”

Inner Mom: Stop it. They have every right to pursue their dreams, even if that takes them away.

Inner Grandma: And what about Grandparents’ Day and Christmas programs at school? No more Halloweens, or walks to the park. No birthday parties. No sleepovers.

Inner Mom: Oh, I give up. Go to your room.

Inner Grandma: That’s what I was going to do anyway. At least I can cry in peace there.

Don’t let my attempt at humor fool you. The “Inner Mom” in me, the one who tells me I don’t have the right to feel sad, or that I’m being selfish for wanting both of my kids and all four of my grandkids nearby FOREVER, at least gave me reason to procrastinate writing this blog long enough to save my readers from “Inner Grandma’s” mournful, blubbering sadness.

But trust me, it’s there.

Still, I find some relief in the passage of time, in long conversations with Steve about both what we’ll miss and what we have to look forward to, like trips to visit both Andrea and her family and Adam and his family, since they’ll now only be five hours from each other. That’s one thing I’m grateful for–that my kids will live close enough to each other that their kids will get to know each other better as cousins.

And, of course we think about the possibility of moving closer to either Andrea or Adam, or possibly to Pittsburgh, PA, which would only be 2 1/2 hours from each of them–a very easy weekend trip. I almost have to laugh at the thought of us living in Pittsburgh, or even Cleveland, OH or Arlington, VA. How many years in my early adulthood did I dream of moving back to California while living in Tulsa, OK? Who would have ever thought that one day I might be living in Pittsburgh?

In thinking back to those many, many years I dreamed of moving back to California from Tulsa, it occurred to me that I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought–taking my kids so far away from my mom, their grandma–who loved them every bit as much as I love my grandkids. It’s only in seeing it from a grandma’s point-of-view that I understand how sad it would have been for my own mother. Yet, at the time, that’s not what I thought about. So, this helps me to see the move from Adam’s point-of-view. He’s doing what he believes is best for him and his family. Period. (Still, I know by the Zillow pages they send us of houses we could buy, they’ll miss us, too.)

But, the point of this blog post–besides exposing feeling sorry for myself–is the revelation that this, too–as with so much of life–is “both/and” and not “either/or.”

I can feel BOTH happy for Adam’s success AND sad teary-eyed devastated for our loss. I can miss the past AND look forward to the future.

And I can be so very grateful for the six years we were blessed to spend living 10 minutes away and so very sad that that time is coming to and end.

 

 

 

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Farewell to the Grumpy Cat Who Loved the Best She Could

Malika, 2010-2020

Yesterday evening, as I began to prepare dinner, I heard Steve call, “Jan,” kind of soft, kind of panicked. In that one short word, I knew something was wrong.

I hurried from the kitchen toward his voice in the hallway, where he held Malika. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“She can’t move her back legs.”

“What?” I thought, initially thinking, How can that be? “What do you mean she’s not moving her back legs?”

“She can’t move them. I just found her dragging herself across the room.” He put her down gently as she whined.

Our minds filled with all kinds of questions.

What could have happened? She was okay just an hour ago.

Did she fall from something? Break her back?

Did she have a stroke?

Did she jump from something and injure herself?

We only knew it was serious, so Steve called our vet. He said we should take her to the emergency room. Before yesterday, I never knew there was an emergency hospital for animals.

We rushed her to the Center for Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Care in Lewisville. I drove while Steve tried to comfort Malika.

When we arrived, we faced one of the great sadnesses of the COVID pandemic. Even at a veterinary clinic, we were not permitted inside. They took all of our information by phone from our car, then asked us to bring Malika to the door, where they would take her inside. We were asked (as compassionately as possible) to wait in our car for the vet to call us.

Steve scrolled through a decade’s worth of photos on his phone, recalling memories of Malika while I went to find something we could eat in the car for dinner.

After about 90 minutes, the vet called with Malika’s diagnosis. Aortic Thromboembolsim. Put simply, a blood clot had traveled from her heart to an artery, where it lodged itself and blocked the blood flow to her hind legs. The prognosis was poor, and as we feared, it became clear we would not be bringing Malika home.

Steve asked if we could go inside to say goodbye. Fortunately, they allowed us to do so.

Anyone who’s ever had to make the very difficult decision to have a beloved pet euthanized knows much of the pain and many of the thoughts we experienced in that room.

I can’t speak for Steve, and I know his pain was far greater than mine. After all, Malika was a part of his life longer than I have been. He’s been the most loving fur-baby Daddy I know to Obi, Samba and Malika.

So, I can only speak for myself.

I’ll admit, perhaps at my peril, that I’m not particularly a cat person. I’ve always preferred the demonstrative love of a dog–the wagging tail, the unbridled excitement upon my return, the unfiltered, uncontrolled, unconditional love expressed throughout the day–as opposed to the “I-can-take-you-or-leave-you” attitude of a cat.

Perhaps a cat lover is more secure and doesn’t need love to be so expressive, who instead finds love in the way a cat rubs against her leg, or nudges with her head while sitting on the couch. Or, perhaps she finds joy and calming in a cat’s purr. Or surely a cat lover finds humor in the trot of a cat as she walks ahead (aka, leads), tail stretched high in the air when it’s finally, finally, FINALLY time for a treat she’s been watching for, waiting, transmitting brain waves, all the while wondering how a human could be so dumb not to know it’s SNACK TIME!

This is not to say I dislike cats. In fact, as I think about what I just wrote, I realize that I may be more attracted to the personality of a dog because I’m more like a cat. I’m not demonstrative of my love–instead, I show it in more subtle ways. And, as I think about it, many of the cat lovers in my life are more dog-like–physical, expressive, if not uncontrolled.

Maybe it’s simply a matter of “opposites attract.”

So Malika and I took a bit of time to accept each other. She was one of the most timid, nervous cats I’ve known, and it took her months, if not years, to completely accept me. Of course, I take some responsibility for this, because it takes two to be unloving.

In time, she would allow me to get close to her, and some of my fondest memories are of when I’d come upon her in the hallway and she’d stop, look up at me shyly and tremble just a bit as she allowed me to bend and pet her. Sometimes, however, if I moved too quickly, she’d run and hide.

Always, always, at the sound of our doorbell, she’d run and hide and sometimes, it would take an hour to search all of her hiding places to let her know it was okay to come out of her fraidy-hole.

She often raised my ire when I’d hear her using our rugs or worse, our furniture as a scratching post, though by the time I rushed into the room to shoo her off, I’d barely catch a glimpse of her white body zipping out of the room to hide. I always wondered how such a fat little blob could move so fast.

But as she lay on the table in the ER, helpless, paralyzed and softly whining, none of that mattered. As I listened to Steve whisper to her that she’d been a good friend, and he’d never forget her, none of that mattered. As I contemplated the decision we’d made, the terrible uncertainty of our responsibility to be humane vs. letting her live a lessor life, none of that mattered.

Suddenly, in my eyes, she went from being a grumpy cat to a sweet girl who had shown us her love in the best way she knew how.

When we came home without her, we were sure that both Obi and Samba sensed Malika was gone. And even though Malika often hid from view, and didn’t join the rest of our little family in the living room in the evenings, we missed her. She was a part of “us.”

It’s no longer Samba and Malika and Obi. It’s just Samba and Obi. And that doesn’t seem right.

Yes, Malika was a grumpy fat cat. But she played a part in our lives. She loved the best she could. And we loved her back. She’ll be missed, but she’ll be remembered always.

 

 

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